January 18, 2019
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
First Baptist Church, Huntsville, provided $16,500 of grocery store gift cards to hundreds of furloughed government workers at an event hosted by the church Jan. 17.
In addition to the gift cards, the church provided space for several community aid organizations to set up information booths and connect federal workers with local services.
FBC Huntsville pastor Travis Collins said the opportunity to host the event was “a lot of good neighbors being neighbors.” Collins said that once plans were in motion, he and other church staff members thought they could do more to help, and the gift card idea was born.
“We gave out all the cards in the first 30 minutes,” Collins said. “My only regret is that we didn’t have more to give.”
Kim Spencer, who works at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in a Facebook message that the gift cards were appreciated.
“FBC’s generosity … is a living, breathing example of Christ’s love,” she wrote.
Huntsville is home to Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal, which combined employ some 40,000 federal workers. The partial government shutdown that began Dec. 22, 2018, has hit the community hard, from the workers going without paychecks to the local businesses that depend on them as consumers.
Upwards of 700 people attended the event to find out about options for assistance. More than a dozen local organizations — from the United Way, the Food Bank of North Alabama and local credit unions —were set up to provide information.
Derrick Stokes, a NASA employee and father of four young children, told NBC News that he was there “just seeing what’s out there.”
Another NASA contractor, Andrea Tobias, told NBC that she was out of savings.
Jody Singer, director of the Marshall NASA Space Flight Center, was at the event and said the event was about helping employees maintain as normal a life as possible during the furlough.
“I know these times have been challenging for you and your families,” Singer told the crowd. “We want to make sure we lessen the burden on you.”
Singer said she didn’t know how long the furlough will continue.
On Jan. 17, President Donald Trump signed the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, a bill that guarantees back pay for furloughed workers once the government reopens. For government contractors, the pay situation is uncertain.
In a Jan. 11 press release, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, whose district includes Huntsville, expressed his support of legislation to provide back pay.
“It is wrong to make federal employees and their families go without pay because Washington politicians do not uphold promises,” Brooks said. “Those employees who take federal jobs expect to be paid the amount their employer and they mutually agreed to. It would be morally wrong for the federal government to not uphold their end of the bargain.”