NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Outside O’Brien’s Pub on Thames Street, a chalkboard sign has been put up: “Free cheese or pepperoni pizza for those who are losing wages from the government shut down. We appreciate you!”
General Manager Kerrie Philbin said she decided the restaurant needed to help after watching news coverage of families going without pay because of the partial government shutdown.
“I’m thinking how can we help, this is super sad,” Philbin said. She called the pub’s owner. “I said can we put out that as long as the shutdown is going on, can we give up free pizzas, cheese or pepperoni to those families or those workers that are not getting paid? And he said, ‘Go for it.'”
While Eyewitness News was at the pub Friday night, two members of the U.S. Coast Guard came in to get pizzas. Their spouses, Rachel Malcolm and Mariah Battermann, said they were grateful for the restaurant’s generosity.
“I thought it was amazing,” Malcolm said. “We took up the opportunity to come and feed our families.”
“It’s definitely showed us that we are all valued in this community, which is fantastic,” Battermann said.
Both women stay home with their children; Malcolm and her husband have four daughters, and Battermann and her husband have a daughter and son, plus she’s a student. Their husbands’ government paychecks support the whole family.
“We’ve had to call our bill people and please ask them to make extensions for us because the money that would normally be there for our automatic payments is not going to be there,” Malcolm said.
While both women are willing to work outside the home, they know the cost of childcare could make it unrealistic for them to get jobs while their husbands aren’t getting paid.
The Coast Guard is the only branch of military working without pay during the partial government shutdown, because it’s part of the Department of Homeland Security. The other branches of the military, which fall under the Department of Defense, are not affected.
Malcolm and Battermann are turning their own hardship into action, organizing a potluck meal for all federal workers and their families, and separately collecting donated items to distribute to those in need.
“No federal employee is forgotten,” Battermann said. “We feel for the people who are going through this, and if we can help in any way, that’s what we’ve been trying to do. And just make it the best we can.”
The potluck is being held on Jan. 20 at Melville Community Center in Portsmouth at 3 p.m. All federal workers and their families are welcome, and are asked to RSVP to Rachel Malcolm at (979) 997-3516.
Malcolm and Battermann are also organizing a donation drive for household items, toiletries, diapers etc. Donations can be brought to Rhode Island Nutrition in Middletown starting on Monday. No money or gift cards will be accepted, and the two women are still seeking a local community partner to help with distributing the items to families in need.