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Coast Guard head: Service members relying on food pantries ‘unacceptable’

WASHINGTON -- The commandant of the US Coast Guard said Tuesday that it is "unacceptable" that Coast Guard members have to rely on food pantries and donations during the partial government shutdown.

"We're five plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay," Commandant Adm. Karl L. Schultz said in a video tweeted out as a message to service members. "You as members of the armed forces should not be expected to shoulder this burden."

Schultz said he and the Coast Guard leadership team "stand in awe of your continued dedication to duty and resilience and that of your families." He said he was also "heartened" by the "outpouring of support from local communities across the nation."

"But ultimately, I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members," Schultz said.

"It's definitely a situation that’s made us feel powerless and hopeless, because we feel like we’ve been abandoned by our government," said Marisol Castillo, the wife of a Coast Guard member and an Imperial Beach resident. "It’s been a little bit humiliating, in a way."

Castillo, and hundreds of other San Diego Coast Guard families, have relied on food donations from groups like the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego. On Wednesday, Feeding San Diego distributed six and a half tons of food to an estimated 500 families at Coast Guard Air Station San Diego.

“I’m ashamed to be standing here talking about feeding military families," said Feeding San Diego CEO, Vince Hall. "In my wildest dreams, I never thought that we would find ourselves in this situation.”

"This week we'll hit another sobering milestone, and that's potential nonpayment to our civilians on Friday," Schultz said. The Coast Guard has a civilian workforce of 8,000, according to the commandant, who work alongside uniformed members.

On January 15, thousands of active-duty Coast Guard service members did not receive their paychecks -- the first time in history that US service members were not paid during a lapse in government funding, according to Schultz.

In the video, Schultz said he and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will "continue to seek solutions." He said he and Master Chief Jason M. Vanderhaden, who also appears in the video, will continue "to take to Capitol Hill the message, the critical importance, of putting paychecks into men and women's hands that serve in the world's best Coast Guard."

Vanderhaden thanked service members and said in the video, "This will end. We will get through this."

"Continue to stand tall," Schultz said. "Your dedication, resilience, to this adversity defines the absolute best of our nation."

Castillo is collecting food donations and baby supplies like formula, diapers and baby wipes, to deliver to her husband's Coast Guard unit. You can contact her about donating on her Facebook page.

Castillo is also asking for people to pick up the phone and call legislators to help pass S.21 and H.R. 367. The legislation would secure funding for U.S. Coast Guard members in the event of a government shutdown. "We're just relying on the community to speak up for us," Castillo said. "I'm trying to do something. I think we shouldn’t just sit and take this.”

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