IRVINGTON, NJ — President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress reached an agreement to end the longest U.S. government shutdown ever after 35 days on Friday, Jan. 25.
According to published reports, the deal effectively cleared the way for 800,000 federal employees to go back to work and get paid. They had reportedly missed two consecutive paychecks and had been ordered to return to work without pay by the president before the deal was reached.
The deal reopens the U.S. government through Friday, Feb. 15, while also creating a committee charged with negotiating an agreement on border security, as part of a new spending bill for the Homeland Security Department. Trump had been holding off reopening the government to force Congress to fund the multi-billion dollar border wall that he wants to erect along the country’s southern border with Mexico, but the shutdown had also threatened important government functions, including Food and Drug Administration safety inspections and the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to process taxes, as well as causing delays at major airports as unpaid air traffic controllers failed to report to work.
Now that the government shutdown has ended, the Rev. Reginald Pitts of Solid Rock Baptist Church wants to help those who have been impacted by the government shutdown.
“Our church is trying to figure out if we can help any government worker with food, etc., considering the government shutdown,” said Pitts on Sunday, Jan. 27. “We are trying to see if we can be of any assistance to folks in need. That’s all.”
Pitts and his church operate a food pantry that helps as many as 3,000 people a month. It’s been open every Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to noon, and every first and third Saturday of the month, from 9 to 10 a.m., since 2008, by the church’s former pastor, the Rev. Leonard T. King.
Food donations are provided from the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, but the church also makes other donations, including clothing and bicycles to those in need.
“I work for the county Welfare Department and, every day, I see people that are unemployed, who are not getting unemployment benefits because their jobs didn’t take it out for them, and they have to come here to the food pantry to get help,” said South Ward Councilwoman Sandy Jones, a member of the Solid Rock Baptist Church congregation, on Sunday, Jan. 27. “It’s sad and it’s a shame to see people, that you know are getting up and going out to work every day, out here on line for the food pantry, because they need to eat. I’m a member of the church and, whatever I can do to help them, I want to do, because they do good stuff.”
Jones said the food pantry and the services it provides have grown by leaps and bounds since 2008. But she said the downside is that there continues to be a need for its services in the community, and in surrounding municipalities.
“It’s about supply and demand, and it’s a shame that we still have a demand for this service in our community,” Jones said. “If you need a place to hold something, go to Solid Rock. They are always trying to do something good for the community and the Rev. Pitts is doing an outstanding job. But I wish there wasn’t so much of a need for them to address.”
Jones and Pitts said the church’s food pantry welcomes all donations of food, clothing, equipment or volunteer service that it can get. That includes referrals from elected officials, such as Mayor Tony Vauss and others.
The last time Pitts opened Solid Rock Baptist Church to provide a public service such as the one he intends for federal employees was Wednesday, Oct. 3, for Sen. Ron Rice’s Marijuana Legalization Community Forum. At the time, he said he did it because he wanted to facilitate public discourse about marijuana legalization.
“We just had a forum with Sen. Ron Rice on the pros and cons of legalization of marijuana,” said Pitts on Wednesday, Oct. 3. “Basically, we held this forum, because we would love for people to get information as it relates to the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana. So whether or not you are for it or against it, you need to have some information from both sides of the aisle, whether it’s money or whether it’s how it’s going to impact our community. … I think it went well. He did his job and we believe information was given out to help the community make an informed decision.”