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Alabama Church Donates $16,000 In Grocery Gift Cards To Help Struggling Federal Workers05:20
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A worker cleans the floors at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which has been impacted by the partial federal government shutdown, at the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (David Goldman/AP)
A worker cleans the floors at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which has been impacted by the partial federal government shutdown, at the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (David Goldman/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

More than half the economy in Huntsville, Alabama, is tied to federal spending. There is a large Army arsenal there, and while the Army is fully funded, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center within the arsenal is not.

Because of the partial government shutdown, most of the center's 5,000 employees are furloughed. The Rev. Travis Collins and his congregation have been trying to help. Collins is with the First Baptist Church of Huntsville, which recently dipped into its rainy-day fund to give out more than $16,000 in grocery-store gift cards at an event for federal workers.

"My only regret is that we didn't set aside more money," Collins (@RefNRev) tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "We really didn't anticipate the response. I looked out there at 20 minutes before [it was] time to open the doors, and there had to be 300 people in the hallway waiting to get into the large hall where we were hosting the event. It was just almost overwhelming."

The gift cards, good for $50 each to the grocery chain Publix, were all claimed in less than 30 minutes, Collins says.

"My only regret is that we didn't set aside more money."

The Rev. Travis Collins

As the shutdown drags on, Collins says future events to help those impacted in Huntsville will attempt to alleviate not just financial anxiety, but also emotional, as children begin to question whether their parents are going to have a job.

"There's another meeting on Thursday where several of the faith leaders are getting together to ask, what is the next step? Because unfortunately this looks like it's going to drag on," he says. "We were all hoping, of course, that it wouldn't. But with it dragging on, we're going to need to offer more than $50 gift certificates."

With federal workers on track to miss a second-straight paycheck Friday, Collins is preparing what he plans to say to his parishioners in church on Sunday.

"I think there are a lot of people around here who are just having to choose hope, when there aren't a lot of reasons for hope coming out of D.C.," he says.


Jill Ryan produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on January 22, 2019.

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