The Ocracoke Oyster Company will offer free lunch–burgers and sandwiches–on Friday (Jan. 18) to furloughed National Park Service workers. Photo: C. Leinbach

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By Connie Leinbach

If you’re a furloughed federal worker on Ocracoke, lunch today (Friday) is on the Ocracoke Oyster Company.

Janille Turner, co-owner with her husband George, will offer complimentary eats–burgers or sandwiches–including soda, tea or coffee to the federal workers.

It doesn’t matter if they are “essential” or not, she said. “They can come in any time.”

Following a devastating fire to her family’s home Dec. 21 after which the community immediately rallied to help, Turner said she is “paying it forward.”

“After the fire, people provided us with a home, a Christmas tree and Christmas for my son,” she said.

Though still reeling from the event, Turner is still concerned about the community.

Her and George’s offer of free lunch at their restaurant follows similar actions across the country during this partial government shutdown, which was in its 27th day on Thursday.

Private companies, charities and individuals have stepped up to help the more than 800,000 federal workers nationwide on forced, unpaid leave from their jobs since Dec. 22 while the political impasse in Washington, D.C., over President Trump’s demands for taxpayer dollars to build a wall on the southern border, drags on.

Though he was technically not working, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent David E. Hallac said in an email that “approximately six” Seashore workers on Ocracoke are furloughed.

“Two law enforcement staff are working as excepted staff on Ocracoke Island,” he wrote. “One staff is working part-time to care for the Ocracoke ponies. They are excepted staff because they are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

In a story Jan. 13, the Seashore announced that restrooms at Whalebone Junction, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and next to the Ocracoke Visitor Center would reopen using revenue generated by recreation fees (camping, park entrance, and lighthouse climbing fees).

More help for the furloughed National Park Service workers is available in the community.

The Bread of Life Food Pantry at the Ocracoke Assembly of God announced Thursday that those affected by the government shutdown can stop by or call the church at 252-928-9001.

The Rev. Richard Bryant, pastor of the Ocracoke United Methodist Church, said the church can help furloughed workers with bill paying on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re open to help,” he said.

Bryant said the church can accept financial donations to help these workers.

And while food donations are helpful, people not receiving paychecks still need to pay bills, such as utilities, rent/mortgage and even health insurance.

Bryant said donations can be dropped off or sent to the church at P.O. Box 278, Ocracoke, NC 27960. with “pastor’s discretionary fund” in the check memo line.

He said the church can also step in as a third-party to talk to companies as it has done in the past following hurricane emergencies.

“We can negotiate with companies,” he said. “We can vouch for them.”

He also noted that Hatteras churches are stepping up to help Coast Guard workers who are working without pay.

A notice from Hyde County on Thursday said that due to the federal government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has instructed states to issue February’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) benefits (SNAP) on Sunday, Jan. 20.

But these will be the only benefits for February. 

“As such, please budget your food purchases wisely,” the notice said. “Further issuance of benefits will not take place until the federal government shutdown is resolved.”

Shumate said these SNAP benefits, though issued through the state, are all federal funds, which are now on hold due to the shutdown.

Ocracoke’s county commissioner, Tom Pahl, noted the ripple effect of the federal shutdown.

“As a county, we would send people to the Department of Social Services,” he said, but that department is in a bind because of the cessation of federal dollars. “State programs are all federally funded.”

As for electricity bills, Heidi Jernigan Smith, spokesperson for Tideland Electric Member Cooperative which powers Ocracoke, said the company has some resources to help.

For example, some customers must pay security deposits before their electricity is turned on.

“We can turn that security deposit into a credit on their account,” she said. Customers should call Tideland at 800-637-1079 to see if they have an existing security deposit.

If customers don’t have a security deposit (depending on their level of credit), Smith said they can apply for a grant from the company’s Operation Round Up program, which is a fund to help customers with bill payment that comes from the accumulation of donations into the program.

This program “rounds up” the cents from a customer’s bill to the nearest dollar. That difference is then donated into the fund.

For a prior story on the partial government shutdown on Ocracoke, click here.

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