Weathering shutdown, Coasties thankful for support
By Chris Day
Saturday, January 26, 2019
A deal reached Friday to reopen the government couldn’t have come at a better time for local Coasties concerned about having to go without another paycheck.
“We’re OK right now, but if it goes on any longer it’s going to get rough,” said Ashley Limnios, the spouse of a U.S. Coast Guardsman. Limnios was commenting on the partial government shutdown during a free dinner for families of Coast Guard and furloughed federal employees at Corinth Baptist Church on Thursday.
Speaking to White House reporters in the Rose Garden Friday afternoon, President Trump announced the deal reached Friday would reopen the government for three weeks, thus ending the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history. Trump said he would sign legislation to fund the U.S. Coast Guard and other shuttered agencies until Feb. 15. The deal does not include funding for a border wall, which was the impetus for the shutdown that began 36 days ago.
Because of the shutdown, Coast Guard members last received a paycheck on Dec. 31, and affected federal employees were last paid just before Christmas. Elizabeth City area churches, businesses and organizations mobilized to offer free services and dinners to help those families. About 400 people benefitted from the free dinner at Corinth Baptist, Thursday. Also, nearly $7,000 in Walmart gift cards were presented to the families.
“It’s great,” said Limnios, who was joined by her husband Nick and their three children. “It’s really nice how the community has come together to help.”
Prior to Elizabeth City, the family had been assigned to Detroit, she said.
Nick Limnios is a petty officer first class who works at the Aviation Logistics Center at Base Elizabeth City.
“How can you not be amazed by the amount of support?” he asked, pointing out that church volunteers rallied in just a week’s time to put together Thursday’s event.
Also praising the outpouring of support was Coast Guard spouse Heidi Elliott, who was attending with her husband, Chief Jay Elliott, and their children, Emerson, 7, and Ester, 3.
“The community has been incredibly supportive of the Coast Guard,” said Elliott, making sure to also credit her family’s next door neighbor for her generosity. “It’s been incredible. It means a lot to us.”
Prior to Elizabeth City, the Elliotts had been stationed in Honolulu, and Thursday’s free dinner was the first her family had taken advantage of.
“We’re OK right now,” she said, expressing some concern about the potential for the shutdown to drag on. “We could not be in a better community right now.”
Seated at another table with a plate with a big piece of cake on it was Petty Officer 1st Class John Sageser. He was sitting with his friends’ 7-month-old daughter Lia Russell on his lap.
Sageser, who works at the Aviation Technical Training Center at Base Elizabeth City, said his family attended another free dinner held last Monday at Berea Baptist Church. Sageser’s family has also used the pop-up food pantry at the Elizabeth City Chief Petty Officers Association on Cardwell Street.
“It’s amazing to see the community support,” he said.
Sagesar said his family is doing fine for now but pointed out they only have, “X amount of funds.”
Sageser, whose family has been in Elizabeth City 10 years, commented on the Coast Guard’s huge footprint on the local economy and how the shutdown was affecting everyone.
“If we can’t spend money to help support the community, how can the community continue to support us?” he asked.
Sharing a table with Sageser’s family were Lia’s parents, Petty Officer 2nd Class David Russell and his wife, Rosa.
Russell, who works at the C27J Asset Project Office on base, said while his family is doing fine for now, it’s the younger Coasties, such as the “A” school students, who he was concerned about. Many of the students are single and live on base and don’t have a savings account or the community ties the older Coasties may enjoy.
Thursday’s dinner was from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the church’s fellowship hall. Kelsey Gray, a member of Corinth Baptist who helped organize the dinner, said 343 people — representing 93 families — signed up to attend, plus about 20 additional people walked in. The church was also delivering another 61 dinners to personnel standing duty on base.
In addition to food prepared and donated by church members, another $7,000 or so was raised to purchase 90 Walmart gift cards worth $75 each. Because federal law prohibits Coast Guard members from accepting monetary gifts in most instances, the cards were given to their spouses or dependents. The gift cards can be used at Walmart to purchase gas, groceries and other items.
Gray said about $3,500 of the total was raised online. The donations ranged from $5 to $500, she said. One woman who lives in Charlotte but used to attend Corinth Baptist when she was a child donated $236. The woman had read online about the free dinner and the need for donations and responded, Gray said.
Some of the funds were also used to purchase snacks to give to the “A” school students.
The fellowship hall was lined with tables filled with plates of desserts, sandwiches and what seemed like at least 30 slow cookers filled with simmering soups, stews, chili and other dinners.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Taylor, who also works at ALC, was working his way past the sandwich tables and filling a to-go box. He was joined by his wife Chelsea, and the two are expecting their first child within weeks.
“We’re doing OK right now,” said the young petty officer.
“We’re very blessed to have parents to help out,” his wife added.
Daniel Taylor explained that the two prepared for the possibility of not getting paid on Jan. 15 by putting some money aside just in case.
“Semper Paratus,” said Chelsea Taylor, laughing and citing the Coast Guard motto, which is Latin for “Always Ready.”