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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019
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Food, money collected across Tampa Bay to help airport, Coast Guard workers survive shutdown

TAMPA - As the partial shutdown of the federal government stretches to three weeks, charitable efforts are springing up across Tampa Bay to help airport, customs and Coast Guard personnel.

Tampa International Airport is hosting a food bank Monday for its federal employees. They include about 700 members of the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Many of them have continued to work without pay during the dispute over President Donald Trump's proposed border wall. Friday was the first payday with no check for many federal employees.

Tampa International is working with the United Way Suncoast and Feeding Tampa Bay to create the food bank for TSA workers, said airport spokeswoman Janet Scherberger. It will be open noon to 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. starting Monday at the airport police training center, 5020 N West Shore Boulevard.

Representatives from the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County Social Services will also be available to help workers access other services. The Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation authority has donated 500 31-day bus passes for employees in need of transportation. The Tampa Aviation Authority was also offering free lunch to its federal employees next week.

"We're really appreciative of everyone coming together as the shutdown lingers," Scherberger said. "We're working on setting up a channel for the public to participate."

About 60,000 people move through the Tampa airport every day. So far, the shutdown has had no major impact on the airport's travel operations, Scherberger said.

Miami International Airport announced Friday that it would close its Terminal G early for three days this weekend due to a shortage of security screeners. Security screeners have been calling in sick at twice the normal rate for the Miami airport, airport spokesman Greg Chin said.

Elsewhere in Tampa Bay, a local veterans group is raising funds to help U.S. Coast Guard personnel. The Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, whose employees are among those who keep working during the shutdown. About 1,100 of them are stationed in the Tampa Bay area.

The Rev. Bob Swick of the Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance was disturbed to learn that local Coast Guard members were having trouble paying bills and finding transportation.

"The fact that junior personnel don't have enough gas to get to work is just despicable," Swick said.

He put out a call to local faith groups a week ago about seeking donations. The Veterans Alliance also began taking funds from individuals and businesses. As of Thursday, Swick said, they had raised about $5,000.

Swick said he has been in touch with the Coast Guard commander in Clearwater about the fund drive.

"He assured me all donations would go into the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Fund."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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