Famous kitchen sets up in the heart of government to feed federal workers

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WASHINGTON (CNS) — Chef José Andrés stood outside of the Pennsylvania Avenue World Central Kitchen location for hours Wednesday, welcoming furloughed federal employees into the cafe to get food and supplies to help feed them and their families.

WASHINGTON - On Wednesday, furloughed federal workers lined up to thank, and take a photo with, Chef José Andrés outside his Pennsylvania Ave. relief kitchen. (Victoria Gomes-Boronat/Capital News Service)

World Central Kitchen, a registered non-profit organization, does more than just hand out hot meals. Partnering with organizations like Martha’s Table, Verizon and Pepco, the resource center provides federal workers in need with fresh produce, diapers, pet food and bill payment consultations.

Andrés announced the opening of the resource center on Tuesday as part of World Central Kitchen’s nationwide campaign to help alleviate financial problems for the thousands of federal workers not receiving paychecks as the government shutdown reached its 33rd day.

Torrell J. Leach, Sr., an FBI management and program analyst working without pay, said he came to the center to get help with paying some of his bills, specifically his Xfinity bill.

He said the companies can and will defer payments until after the shutdown is over. Leach said he has already been spending money from his savings, but doesn’t want to spend all his money on just paying bills.

“I’m just preparing, taking it day by day,” Leach told Capital News Service. “That’s all I can really do.”

The shutdown is serving as a teaching moment for some government employees.

Lewis Wilborn, a pretrial service officer also working without pay, said he has learned how to prioritize his actions and activities. He said he drives less to save on gas, spends less on dry cleaning and stays at home more.

“It kind of makes you take a step back,” Wilborn said. “I’ve had to evaluate my values and see what’s important. I’ve been spending a lot less, and I’m going to save more for the years to come.”

Lewis said the shutdown has been affecting his family since Christmas, right around when the government shutdown began.

“At that point, right after Christmas, that’s when it gets tough,” he said. “You know, you overspend a little bit and then things pick back up but I wasn’t expecting this right now.”

A father of a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old, Lewis said he had to return some Christmas gifts, like clothes and toys that his kids hadn’t opened yet.

Andrés said he and other partners are working to open 40 more locations like the Pennsylvania Avenue World Central Kitchen to help people just like Leach and Lewis.

Andrés said the location on Pennsylvania Avenue was intentional. Equidistant from the White House and the United States Capitol, the chef said he wanted to draw in politicians so they could come and see how the shutdown was affecting government employees.

Already, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has visited, and Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen toured the kitchen Wednesday.

Andrés said he won't close any locations until the government shutdown is over.

“We cannot afford not to be open. We’ll feed the people first,” the chef said.