Five good examples of citizens, philanthropies filling void of shutdown

Story highlights

  • A man carrying the South Carolina flag mows the lawn at Lincoln Memorial
  • A food bank feeds hungry furloughed workers at Grand Canyon National Park
  • An East Coast grocery chain distributes 100,000 gift cards worth $5 each
  • It takes a billionaire couple to keep Head Start open for low-income toddlers in six states

Ours is a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

It may be time to add turned over to the people, too -- if the volunteerism of a few kind people, companies and philanthropies is any indication.

As conflict between Congress and the White House has wrought a partial government shutdown, several big-hearted individuals and organizations have stepped forward with time and cash to provide services that Uncle Sam now can't.

Death benefits

It is called the ultimate sacrifice, but a soldier giving his or her life for the United States wasn't prompting the Pentagon to deliver benefits to surviving family members.

So, stepping in is an organization that few Americans outside the military had heard of until now: the Fisher House Foundation.

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National parks to reopen in Utah
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The charity operates 62 residences for injured service members and has served 180,000 military families since 1990. It is now guaranteeing surviving relatives "the full set of benefits they have been promised, including a $100,000 death gratuity payment," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

In the meantime, Congress is finalizing an agreement to resume paying survivor benefits, including the $100,000 payment.

$5 gift cards

An East Coast grocery chain on Thursday began distributing $500,000 worth of $5 gift cards to food banks in three cities in North Carolina because the pantries expect long lines in the wake of a suspended federal program serving low-income pregnant women and new mothers with children under age 5.

The suspended federal aid is part of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, called WIC.

The food banks can give the $5 gift cards -- redeemable at Food Lion stores -- to any family in need, said company spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown. Food Lion has 1,100 stores in 10 Eastern states.

"I'm heading right now to the Charlotte food banks," Phillips-Brown said on Thursday afternoon. The other cities to receive the gift cards will be Raleigh and Winston-Salem, she said.

"This is important to us because we don't want families having to choose between paying rent or buying baby formula," she said.

Impoverished preschoolers

It took a billionaire couple to keep Head Start classrooms open for 7,000 low-income children in six states.

Laura and John Arnold are giving $10 million to ensure the early childhood education program remains open in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi.

Head Start provides schooling to 1 million low-income U.S. children under age 5 in an effort to prepare them for kindergarten and subsequent grades. When Head Start programs close, parents often miss work or must find alternative care for their children.

The nonprofit Head Start Association said it will repay the Arnolds if the government, after the shutdown, provides funding to keep programs operational for a year.

Feeding the furloughed

A food bank is coming to the rescue of more than 2,200 workers at one of the shuttered U.S. parks -- the Grand Canyon National Park -- as well as 1,200 employees in the private hospitality sector who depend on an open park for business.

Non-mandated federal employees don't have a paycheck. And workers in nearby hotels and restaurants are also hurt by the loss of tourism.

So, the St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance in Phoenix has begun weekly distribution of emergency food boxes to workers strained by the Grand Canyon's shutdown.

Beverly Damore, president and CEO of the alliance, recalled how one boy found a can of pork and beans in one box. He held it aloft "like a prize," she said in a videotaped statement.

"He was holding it with joy on his face. He so clearly needed that food," Damore said.

She has nevertheless been losing sleep because she didn't note the boy's name, or that of a couple who accepted food and promised to help the food bank when "times are better," she said.

"I do not know how to make those folks in D.C. thousands of miles away stay sleepless with me because they also do not know these fine people," Damore said.

Volunteer lawn mower

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington needed a landscaper, so Chris Cox of Charleston, South Carolina, brought a gas mower and trimmed the grass while holding his home state's flag. The other hand pushed the mower.

The moment was captured on a CNN iReport video by passerby Darrel Stroman, who said: "I get caught at the light and see a man cutting the grass at the Lincoln Memorial. I didn't know what was stranger at the moment -- the fact that he was cutting the lawn or that he was holding the South Carolina state flag while cutting.

"It was a very unusual moment," Stroman said.

Police, however, halted the volunteer landscaper's activities.

"He was asked to leave and he did," said Sgt. Paul Brooks, spokesman for the U.S. Park Police.

Cox was grateful that police didn't ticket or arrest him.

Said Cox: "'At the end of the day, the citizens are stewards of the memorials."