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Local businesses do their part for federal employees affected by government shutdown

Lisa Spinale, co-owner of Spinale & Company, is offering free haircuts to federal employees out of work during shutdown. (Spenser R. Hasak)

Local businesses are pitching in to help federal employees who have gone without paychecks in the month-long U.S. government shutdown.

Restaurants, lenders and others, including the YMCA in several communities, have offered discounted or free services for an estimated 2,500 federal workers on the North Shore who are furloughed or working without pay.

The shutdown has had a direct impact north of Boston, which is home to an Internal Revenue Service Office in Andover, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Coast Guard offices in Gloucester.

It began late last month after President Donald Trump ordered a shutdown to force Congress to approve $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the southern U.S. border.

Kathleen Walsh, who takes over as CEO of YMCA of Metro North Monday, said the organization is doing its part to help out those with government jobs who are not getting paid. Current enrolled members will not pay for their services and those not enrolled with the YMCA can walk in and get a free membership.

“We started doing it just after the first of the year,” said Walsh. “It has been amazing with helping people with childcare and providing a ton of people with memberships and their gratitude is very overwhelming. One parent sent a letter yesterday saying the act of kindness allows their kids to maintain happiness while not knowing what is going on.”

The YMCA’s various locations in Lynn, Peabody, Melrose, Stoneham, and Saugus are all participating in the government shutdown help. Walsh said, so far, the YMCA has provided between $5,000 and $8,000 in free childcare services and memberships, helping about 30 families who are being affected, with more coming in every day.

“We are going the distance with this,” she said. “While we raise money every day for scholarships, we don’t normally give out this many this early in the year, so we’ll just have to work harder to raise more money over the next 11 months. If anyone being affected by this needs help or a place to relax, we can relieve some of those stresses here at the YMCA of Metro North.”

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said he contacted the region’s banks and asked them to create a zero-interest loan for affected workers. Among the lenders who have stepped up, he said, are Eastern Bank, City of Boston Credit Union, Congressional Federal Credit Union, Hanscom Federal Credit Union, Navy Federal Credit Union, and the Service Credit Union.

Each of the lenders have established their own programs, but Moulton said they all agreed to offer zero-interest loans to furloughed government workers for up to the full amount of their missed paycheck.

“The American families bearing the brunt of this shutdown are our neighbors, not political bargaining chips,” Moulton said in a statement. “Our local banks and credit unions get this, I applaud their efforts to ensure that these neighbors can pay their mortgage, and put food on the table … during this difficult time.”

Quincy Miller, president and vice chair at Eastern Bank, said at the onset of the shutdown, the Lynn-based lender offered flexible terms to impacted workers.

“Eastern knew we had to be there to help if customers had financial hardships,” he said.

Their initial response was to establish payment deferral plans which protected people’s credit scores, he said.

“But as it dragged on, we provided additional support.”

Eastern established the Federal Employee Relief Loan for amounts from $500 to $5,000 with no interest or payment for 90 days.

“We’re crossing our fingers that will be long enough, but if it extends longer we will adjust and make it right,” Miller said.

If customers are unable to pay it back within the estimated time frame, the loan will cost 5 percent for months four through 27.

“That’s obviously a very good rate for an unsecured loan,” he said.

In Saugus, Prince Pizzeria is offering a free buffet lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. to all government workers affected by the shutdown.

“We were going to do it on Tuesdays for the duration of the shutdown,” said Steve Castraberti of Prince, “But we’ll do it every day.”

Castraberti said Prince does the same thing for veterans on Veterans Day, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. He stressed that neither he nor his restaurant is taking a political position.

“We’re taking a human position,” he said. “We feel like it’s the right thing to do. It’s really a shame that people in America are forced to work without a paycheck.”

The family has operated the restaurant since 1961, “and we will continue to help as many people as we can, wherever we can,” the Castraberti family said in a statement.

Castraberti also said because Logan Airport is in East Boston, many of the government workers, especially Transportation Security Administration employees, come from the area.

“So when you look at it,” he said, “this affects a lot of people from the area.”

Reading about a restaurant providing free meals to furloughed federal employees prompted Swampscott hair salon owner Lisa Spinale to offer free haircuts.

She posted her offer last Sunday on social media and has made good on it six times since then. The offer stands until the shutdown ends.

“All they need to do is show federal identification. One of the guys who came in said, ‘I don’t like to feel like a charity case.’ He offered to pay me when he got back pay but I declined,” Spinale said.

Spinale and her husband, Dan, have owned Spinale & Company for a quarter century and operated on Humphrey Street for 14 years. They said the chance to make someone who isn’t getting paid feel better for the half hour it takes to cut their hair is important.

“We feel bad for all these people. We all have bills to pay,” Dan Spinale said.

The Nahant Preservation Trust sent out a newsletter on Thursday addressing their concern for the members of Coast Guard Station Boston, who are dedicated to helping keep the town’s waters safe.

They are asking community members to send a donation to Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, a nonpartisan support organization that is helping those in need right now.

“We are very concerned because we know they have missed too many paychecks and yet must remain on duty,” they stated in the newsletter.

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