Melba's Restaurant is known for its comfort food. The federal workers packing the place for a free lunch Tuesday certainly needed comforting.
Akeemah Smith was among them. "I'm just trying to pull through. I have a daughter, I'm a single mom," the furloughed federal worker explained. "So paying tuition and car notes and rent and all of those things coming in — it's been kind of rough."
She's a regional program manager at the General Services Administration (GSA). The GSA helps manage other federal government agencies and was actually funded into the beginning of January. For GSA employees, this Friday will mark the first paycheck they will have missed due to the partial government shutdown.
"What do you do?" asked Cheryl Lassiter. She is a revenue agent for the IRS. Like most federal government employees, this Friday will mark the second paycheck she will miss because of the partial government shutdown.
Lassiter said she's not used having her own money woes and bills she can't pay, such as her rent.
"I need a roof over my head. Car insurance is due, car notice is due, it's not a necessity," she said.
For colleagues not working, the lunch at Melba's Restaurant was a reunion of sorts. Others, including Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers, have remained on the job because the government deems their work at airport security checkpoints essential. But they're not getting paid either.
"I have children and they don't understand because sometimes I have to sacrifice going home. It's not equal enough. I come home, not enough groceries, things of that nature, so we're really going through it," TSA Worker Joseph Gilmore said.
TSA workers earn no more than $43,000 a year. Plenty of them visited the Food Bank for New York City's pop-up location for federal employees at the Barclays Center on Tuesday.
"I'm just praying we get paid. That's what we're really worried about right now," said Sheldon Bernard, a TSA agent.
The Food Bank for New York City is asking federal workers to check its website to learn more about pop-up distribution sites.
The owner of Melba's made it clear that Tuesday's lunch wasn't a handout, but a meal for people who serve the country.
"Harlem cares," Melba Wilson said. "When we looked at how many people are affected by this government shutdown, I felt we had to do something."
The restaurant said it will provide additional free lunches if the shutdown drags on.
Brenda Griffin teared up listening to Wilson. She's a personal assistant at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
"I’m just living day by day, and praying to God. Hopefully the government shutdown will end and we can go back to work," Griffin said.
OTHER FREE SERVICES IN NEW YORK FOR FEDERAL EMPLOYEES NOT GETTING PAID
Beautiful — The Carole King Musical: The show announced Tuesday that furloughed federal employees will be given free admission to the show for select Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday evening performances.
UJA- Federation of New York: UJA-Federation of New York and the Hebrew Free Loan Society (HFLS) will fund interest-free "paycheck" loans that will replace missed paychecks for federal workers who reside in New York City, Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties and who earn $40,000 or less.
TSA Free Luncheon Program: The Aloft Hotels, Ibis Styles Hotels, and Good Eats Bistro, are partnering to cater a free lunch buffet for TSA employees who are working without pay.
Free Lunch at Brother Jimmy's: Select locations will offer free lunch for federal employees on Wednesday, Jan. 23, through Friday, Jan. 25, with a valid ID present.
Free Movie Tickets: Federal staffers on furlough are being offered free admission at BAM Rose Cinemas to the first show of the day of any film currently playing Monday through Thursday.