It’s the fourth week of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and morale in Washington is running thin. Federal employees have already missed their first paychecks, TSA agents are calling in sick, and the FDA can no longer guarantee that your romaine isn’t crawling with E.coli. As if that weren't enough, a suitably apocalyptic snowstorm all but paralyzed the nation’s capital this week.
Yet some good has come from this dumpster fire of a situation. While the politicians squabble and huff out of meetings on the Hill, a few regular citizens are taking it upon themselves to show some basic human decency. A number of restaurants have been offering free meals to furloughed employees, including chef José Andrés who announced on Twitter that World Central Kitchen would be offering free meals to any federal family in need at the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue between Congress and the White House.
While the need for booze is less dire than food, there are currently more than 800,000 furloughed federal employees who could probably use a drink right about now. At the same time, breweries are struggling to move their product. To that end, activist Erick Sanchez, food writer Nevin Martell, and Al Goldberg, founder of the D.C. food incubator Mess Hall, launched PayItFurloughed on Sunday to give frustrated citizens a way to give back.
We thought about the average Jane or the average Joe out there who wants to do something nice for people who aren’t getting paid for their hard-earned work.”
“We were at dinner lamenting that a lot of our friends and loved ones have been impacted by the shutdown,” Goldberg says. Earlier in the week, Justin Cox, CEO of Atlas Brew Works, worried about having to dump his product before it spoiled. “I’m envisioning beer literally getting poured down the drain. We started talking about almost jokingly how we could put these things together. There’s beer to be had and people who need a cold one.”
The concept is simple: Donate a couple bucks and a furloughed federal employee in the nation’s capital can redeem them at a participating brewpub. Participants are welcome to spend the day at the bar and enjoy as many beers as they would like (and can safely consume).
“We thought that crowdsourcing is a way to bring people together. Not everybody who wants to help owns a restaurant or has the capability to donate the product that they make,” Goldberg says. “We thought about the average Jane or the average Joe out there who wants to do something nice for people who aren’t getting paid for their hard-earned work.”
The response has already been overwhelmingly positive, with more than 500 beer donations flooding in on the site’s first full day live, helping bring the total number of available beers up to just shy of 1,000. Atlas Brew Works, 3 Stars Brewing Co., and DC Brau are all participating. By this weekend, the trio hopes to introduce a similar concept with local restaurants and food businesses, many of which are feeling the financial strain as federal workers tighten their belts.
This isn’t the only time the brewing community has stepped up to make the best of an undeniably shitty situation. Twenty days into the shutdown, Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City started offering federal employees a free beer and a 50 percent discount on their bar tabs, including food.
“For those bearing the brunt of the federal gov’t shutdown, we offer a little bit of solace,” the brewery tweeted. Also in Kansas City, City Barrel Brewing Company decided to give away $20,000 worth of New England IPA rather than dump it while waiting for label approval.
A few beers aren't going to fix this mess, but small acts of kindness to strangers can certainly help everyone get through it.