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/ Source: TODAY
By Meghan Holohan

As the longest-ever government shutdown continues, many furloughed federal employees need help. But figuring out what to do can seem so overwhelming. How can you and your family possibly assist so many people in need?

While simple gestures, such as being patient and kind to unpaid TSA screeners at airports, go a long way, donating to organizations that are helping federal employees can make things a little easier for those impacted. Here are five ways to help during the government shutdown:

1. Donate to a food pantry.

As people struggle without paychecks, many are turning to food banks to feed their families. The Capital Area Food Bank's Hunger Lifeline, which provides emergency food services in the greater Washington, D.C. area, told the Washington Post of an an increase of 10 to 20 percent in demand. That works out to anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 additional meals in January. This will cost about $300,000, which is money the organization doesn’t have.

While Washington-area food pantries are hard-hit, pantries across the country are expanding their services to help furloughed workers. They all expect that the increased demand from unpaid federal workers will strain their resources.

Demonstrators rally against a partial government shutdown at a protest hosted by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 10, 2019.Alex Wroblewski / Bloomberg via Getty Images

2. Donate to repair national parks.

With park rangers off the job, the national parks have fallen into disrepair. Trash cans are overflowing, bathrooms are filthy and unruly patrons are destroying parks.

That's why the National Park Foundation started a fundraiser to garner money to repair the parks after the shutdown. This fundraiser is similar to others the foundation has coordinated to help parks after natural disasters.

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And there are other ways to help the parks that don't involve money. People can sign up to volunteer at the national parks after the shutdown to help clean up. Also, if you choose to visit a park during the shutdown, make sure to take your trash with you.

3. Call your senators and representatives.

Call, email, fax or send letters to members of congress to tell them you support federal workers and want them back to work with pay as soon as possible.

You can find U.S. Representatives here.

Find U.S. Senators here.

4. Support a business helping furloughed workers.

Chef José Andrés' nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, is feeding furloughed workers near Capitol Hill as part of an effort called #ChefsForFeds. But Andrés is not alone: Various Washington, D.C.-area restaurants also are offering free meals to federal employees.

Verizon Wireless is allowing federal employees to set up payment plans for the future to help them save cash. And First Oklahoma Bank allowed federal employees to act as if their money arrived so they could pay their mortgage and buy groceries.

Uber and Lyft are hiring furloughed federal employees, so taking a ride-share and tipping could be helping people in need of extra cash.

Airbnb started a program, A Night on Us, where it will give up to an additional $110 to any federal executive branch employee who hosts an experience or a three-night stay from Dec. 18, 2018 to March 18, 2019.

Orangetheory Fitness in the Chicago area is offering free workouts and heart-rate monitor rentals from Jan. 17 to 31.

And for families needing a little fun, Sky Zone is providing free 60-minute jump sessions to federal employees and their immediate family members every Tuesday through Thursday until Jan. 31.

5. Get creative.

Some federal employees are hosting potlucks to pool resources and brainstorm financial solutions. Others, such as employees in Missoula, Montana, hosted garage sales to raise some extra cash. Buying items at federal employees' garage sales can help them make a few extra bucks. Or simply having them over for a meal or dropping off some food can help them manage strained resources.

But it's important to note that federal ethics regulations restrict employees from accepting some gifts, so check the guidelines before handing over a large gift certificate or check.

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