Jason Davis knows what it is like to need help, so when thousands of federal workers found themselves without an income, he quickly put together a way to give back to his community.
Every Saturday, Davis opens the doors to MayMoes, the Cajun and Creole restaurant he has owned for three years in Cache Valley. Davis started offering furloughed federal workers and their families a free breakfast each week in order to help the community that has supported him.
“These guys have been awesome to me. They welcomed a Cajun restaurant, a guy from Louisiana, and they gave us a chance,” Davis said. “You don’t want to see anybody down. To go right after Christmas and to lose a job, even though some people say they’re going to get paid anyways, but you know, that doesn’t do any good right now. I want to help lighten the load a little bit, so we are giving a helping hand for a while. People need it.”
Davis said that he can relate to not having a job and needing a helping hand.
“We want to cheer them up, feed them, feed their kids and help them not stress over paying the bills,” he said. “I’ve been broke before, and honestly, I don’t know if it’s about the money so much for the people as it is just the opportunity to get out of the house and have a nice family meal together. I know when I was out of work, I tended to sit at home a lot, so it was nice just to help people get out of the house.”
Volunteers like David Stock offered their time to make breakfast.
“I’m from Louisiana, just like Jason, and I love MayMoes. It’s just a matter of time before we are the ones who need help. That’s what life is, and we want to pay it forward,” Stock said.
Andy Meerdo and his family arrived for a meal Saturday. Meerdo is an IT specialist and is one of the many who still have to go to work even though they aren’t getting paid.
“I go in to check the buildings and make sure everything is OK,” Meerdo said. “It’s hard not knowing when the next paycheck is coming and knowing you still have to go to work.”
Meerdo has three kids and isn’t able to get another job because of the hours he has to work for the government. Meerdo is also unable to get unemployment because of the hours he is required to work for no pay.
“They expect us to do our job, so we expect them to do their job,” Meerdo said about politicians in D.C. “From 1980-2016 there have only been three times that they’ve passed a budget when it’s due. This has been the hardest, and we are probably good for another month before we need to be creative with our financing.”
Meerdo said that his health benefits are still there, but he just found out that after two missed pay periods his extended benefits such as dental and vision are beginning to charge him rather than coming out of his paycheck.
Unlike Meerdo, Austin Miracal doesn’t have a family to worry about, just a dog at home. Miracal is an animal care technician at the Millville Predator Research facility, which is under the United States Department of Agriculture and Wildlife Services.
Miracal said he can last another two weeks before he is “hurting pretty bad.” He said he has had to be creative with his meals and that his dog has half a bag of food in the home before he will need to worry about her.
“We were lucky to have three pay periods in one month in November, and my neighbors have been helping me with food,” Miracal said. “I don’t even want to think about what would happen if this went on for longer (than) two weeks (more).”
The federal government shutdown is now in its fourth week over President Donald Trump’s $5.7 billion demand to help build a border wall between Mexico and the U.S. The House and Senate voted to back-pay thousands of federal workers when the shutdown ends, leaving many in a holding state until further notice. The shutdown is now the longest in American history.
Companies like MayMoes, Great Harvest Bread Company and Hogle Zoo are all offering services for furloughed workers.
“Many hands make light work,” Davis said. “It was no divine inspiration to decide to help others. I’ll do it until I run out of money or food. Even when the government opens back up, we will keep doing it because people won’t get paid right away.”
Utah is one of the hardest-hit states with thousands of workers, including IRS workers, being affected.
“I hope it doesn’t continue. I have a serious hope that our government will get back to work,” said Scott Robinson, who has worked for the Forest Service for 20 years. “I am very grateful for the level of support that our community has for us whether we are at work or we aren’t, and I can’t wait to get back to work.”