United States

After Visiting Food Bank, Furloughed Federal Worker Pays it Forward

Normally a volunteer, furloughed federal employee visits food bank for the first time as a recipient

Thursday, the U.S. Senate rejected two proposals to reopen the government, leaving lawmakers without a plan to end the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

“I’ve just stopped following the news. I feel like it’s so hopeless,” said Tom Ruiz, of Frisco. “I hate to be so down and pessimistic, but I’ve got things to do now and I’ve got a community that’s helping me and I want to help as well.”

Ruiz, an EPA communications specialist, has been on furlough since Dec. 28, 2018. His last paycheck was half what of it normally is. This Friday, the paycheck will total zero.

The married father of four young children also battles multiple sclerosis and a missed paycheck is devastating.

“MS is something I’ve got to manage despite all this,” Ruiz explained. “Keep on top of my medications, which come at a cost, and my diagnostic tests, which are expensive.”

On Monday, he said his family visited a food pantry for the first time as a client instead of a volunteer.

“It was my first time going as a recipient,” said Ruiz. “I took my kids and I wanted to show them a lesson that our community is out there for us.”

But the visit to Minnie’s Food Pantry in Plano also got Ruiz thinking about what he could do to help.

The musician connected with the owner of a new coffee shop in McKinney and asked about hosting a fundraiser.

Ruiz will play guitar while Hesham Bakr donates a portion of his sales at Duino Coffee to Minnie’s Food Pantry.

“I can only sympathize and take action. These are the times when we need to help and this is when the community needs to come together to help,” said Bakr.

The fundraiser starts at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and ends at 7:30 p.m.

“The pantry is in need of donations,” said Minnie’s Food Pantry founder and CEO Cheryl Jackson. “Especially out-of-the-box ideas since we are in an out-of-the-box moment in government right now.”

That out-of-the-box moment means sleepless nights for Ruiz as the shutdown drags on, but he said he refuses to lose hope.

“I can’t be bitter about all of the blessings I’ve received,” said Ruiz. “I really have seen God in my life.”

“I’ve been losing sleep anyway, just on the stress alone. But, I’m not going to add the bitterness to it. I’m just going to be grateful in terms of the blessings I’ve received from the community," Ruiz said.

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