Sophie Geyer, a mom of one who lives in Springfield, Va., belongs to a running group that includes many women whose families are being affected, financially and otherwise, by the federal government shutdown. She wanted to do something to help, and after seeing an article about sisters who were baking to generate temporary income, she considered purchasing a cheesecake.
“I remembered I’m on a diet and trying not to spend money right now,” she says. “So then I started thinking of other ways I could help.”
She remembered a bundle of gift cards her family received for the holidays last month, and Geyer, a government employee whose agency is not affected by the shutdown, hatched an idea.
"I figured they could be of better use to someone furloughed,” she says, so she posted an offer on the Facebook page for the running group, Springfield Moms Run This Town. “I hoped that others were in the same situation and decided to see if the thread would take off.”
Within hours of her offer, Geyer’s post drew more than 30 others extending coupons, rewards certificates and gift cards for gas, groceries, restaurants, movies and more. It also bore messages of heartfelt thanks from those affected by the shutdown. “Thank you so much for this! My husband and I are both furloughed [from the Census Bureau] and I’m kind of in denial still, but it’s starting to get really stressful! You all are amazing!” wrote Tina Choe, a mother of two.
Meg Nelson, who has been a co-chapter leader for Springfield Moms Run This Town for almost six years, was not surprised by the outpouring of support within the group. MRTT has a history of taking care and giving back, both inside and outside the group, she says.
“We’ve supported people through deployment with meal trains, family death with memorials, unexpected snow days by watching each other’s kids or making sure they could get picked up if the parents couldn’t get there, school supplies for students in need, runs and raffles to raise supplies for ECHO. It’s crazy to list it out,” she says.
Geyer says MRTT’s culture establishes trust. It’s hard to admit you’re struggling, but it might be a little easier to open up to someone when you’re both reaching for that last mile. “I think I’ve talked about the shutdown at every run I’ve been to,” Geyer says. “It’s a safe place for us to vent our frustrations and discuss the things stressing us out.”
That includes the shutdown. Many employees are expected to continue to work without compensation, meaning they still have child-care and transportation expenses, but no money coming in. There are other anxieties as well. “I have never felt so alone or worthless as a public servant,” Heather Selig wrote on Geyer’s post; she and her husband, the parents of twins, are furloughed and working without pay.
Group members continue to reach out, helping each other through this difficult time. Moms continue to post on Facebook, offering each other diapers and formula — two other hard-to-avoid expenses. And Kristinn Sharpe, a furloughed EPA employee and mother of six, found her temp job through another MRTT member.
“The moms in this running group are amazing and super supportive,” she says. A friend tagged her on the gift card giveaway, which she appreciated. Her husband is still working at the Office of Personnel Management, but she’s nervous about what a continued furlough will mean for their family.
Lisa Hull, a DHS/ICE employee and mom of three, is furloughed, and her husband was laid off five months ago. She used one of the cards she was given to make 12 pans of stuffed shells, which she offered to other affected families. All were claimed within three hours. Paurenia Patrick, another mom in the group, brought Costco gift cards to give to the families picking up their shells, along with an envelope for Hull. It contained $100 and a note, which told Hull to consider the money “a grant of kindness” for thinking of others, even when she is in need herself. Hull followed the shells with a round of tamales that were claimed just as quickly.
The kindness goes beyond this group, of course: free meals from restaurants, free food from grocery stores, free access from work spaces, free tickets from movie theaters. Banks are offering loans to help until paychecks resume. Hull says the overwhelming response has given her greater faith in humanity. But amid the reassurance and renewed optimism, news that the shutdown may continue into February provokes a fresh round of dread from families facing more furloughs, many of them nearing the breaking point for already-stretched finances.
Meanwhile, Geyer paid another group member to run errands for her and is attempting the gift card giveaway in another online community. “I’m just trying to see how people need help in the next couple of weeks,” she says. Some MRTT members say that the aimlessness of being home is as difficult as the financial burden.
Nelson sees the material support as “amazing,” but points out that people also emotional support. “Check on them — take them out for coffee, offer to meet for a walk, take their kids for a play date,” she says. “Not just their finances are being affected — their routines are turned upside down too. There are lots of ways to help.”
Madeleine Deliee is a freelance writer and a teacher, mom and recovering actor. She lives in Northern Virginia. Find her on Twitter @MMDeliee.