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Heartland United Way organizes effort to help furloughed workers

Heartland United Way has organized an effort to help Central Nebraskans who are not collecting their salaries because of the partial government shutdown.

The effort is called Shutdown Help in the Heartland.

In order to support community members affected by the federal stalemate, visit You may also bring checks to the Heartland United Way office at 1441 N. Webb Road.

The goal is to help families with “their most basic needs” during the shutdown, said Karen Rathke of Heartland United Way.

The local effort was begun with the help of community leaders Linna Dee Donaldson and Vikki Deuel.

Watching news coverage, people learn about the plight of federal workers in Washington, D.C., and other areas, Donaldson said. But what about people in this area?

“Some of them live right here in Grand Island,” Donaldson said.

Many of us have relatives or know someone who has been furloughed, she said.

“Grand Island has always been a caring community,” Deuel said.

Examples were abundant following the 1980 tornadoes. There is also a long tradition of farmers and neighbors helping one another, she said.

“We’re a family — an extended family,” Deuel said. “This is one of those times that we need to show that we care” and take care of each other, she said.

“I think people will be generous,” Donaldson said.

The longer the shutdown goes, the bigger the need will be, Rathke said. Resources will soon be depleted.

It is not known how many Central Nebraskans are affected by the shutdown.

But there are at least 725 federal employees in the Grand Island metropolitan statistical area, which consists of Hall, Howard, Merrick and Hamilton counties.

In addition to FBI agents, TSA workers and other groups, there are at least two dozen meat inspectors in the area going without pay.

According to statistics from September 2014, there were 1,137 federal employees and retirees in Hall County. Of that total, 485 were retired.

After the shutdown ends, any remaining funds will be used to help community members facing similar situations. All of the money will remain in Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick Counties.

Donating online requires a $10 minimum.

The owner of El Tazumal, a restaurant at 424 W. Fourth St., is offering free meals to federal employees who are going hungry. A sign in the window says, “If you have been affected by the recent government shutdown, we would like to offer you a meal. Please stop in.”

Owner Maria Molina knows those people might be able to get a loan for their house payment. “But food is a different area,” she said.

“I know I cannot supply (food) every day, but one meal will help, I think,” she said.

So far, she’s given away two meals. The sign went up Jan. 17.

Her daughter works for TSA at Eppley Airfield in Omaha. She told her mother that she’ll be all right, but some of her co-workers have kids.

Molina put up the sign in an effort to help.

She’s asking the Lord to help her provide the food. “I asked Him to help me to be able to provide because I don’t know how many employees are here.

Some people tell her the furloughed workers drive nice cars.

“I say, ‘Well, you live according to what you get paid. You never expect things like this to happen,’” she said. “We just need to be able to be together in this, to help each other.”

Molina feels she’s not doing much. “I wish I could do more,” she said.

The restaurant, which is at the corner of Fourth and Cedar, specializes in Salvadoran and Mexican food.

By Jeff Bahr  Jan 24, 2019 Updated Jan 25, 2019