LAYTON — When the government fails us, our neighbors sometimes step in to fill the gap.
People from all across the state did just that this past weekend, when the “Pear Lady” and a host of volunteers came together to help families affected by the federal government shutdown. Lines of needy parents, grandparents and children stretched nearly across the spacious park to receive canned food, fresh produce, kids’ clothes, formula and more.
“We wanted to make sure people still had hope,” said Caitlin Smith, a Harrisville single mother whose offer of pears to families affected by the brief shutdown of the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) has led to the nickname “Pear Lady.”
Though emergency funding late last week led to WIC being able to reopen through October, even the temporary closure led to several canceled appointments for mothers. Programs such as food stamps have also been affected by the shutdown, as have government jobs.
“My boyfriend’s mom works for the IRS, and she got furloughed,” said Kaleey Sorensen, who was standing in line to pick up some diapers and formula for her year-old son Kyrium Roper.
She was amazed at the stacks of food and clothes that were being offered. Though Associated Foods was a sponsor for the event, many of the donated items came from private citizens.
“I think it’s amazing that the community can come together in hard times and pull something like this together,” Sorensen said.
Though the event was scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m., the fact that there were already approximately 70 people in line by 4:15 p.m. prompted organizers to start a few minutes early. Volunteers of all ages led households through the line one group at a time, with other volunteers on hand to staff individual tables full of items such as cereal, peanut butter and children’s shoes.
A community spirit pervaded the air. One volunteer helped a woman choose what produce stored best, while another offered over-the-phone lessons in how to make something to another woman in line. Organizers said that there were no restrictions on how much each family could take, though one woman in line specifically chose a smaller peanut butter to leave the larger jars for bigger families.
“This is really nice for people to do,” said Pat Huver, who was in line to see if she could get some things for her pregnant granddaughter.
Though she said her granddaughter hadn’t yet joined WIC, a young woman behind her in line had felt the pinch from the program’s brief shutdown.
“I had an appointment, but they cancelled it,” said Chelsea Langston, who described herself as “pregnant and 17.”
Though WIC is temporarily back up and running, there’s been discussion between Smith and her sisters about whether or not to organize another event. One of those sisters, Roy resident Kaitlyn Ford, hopes that they’ll continue.
“The feeling is so great,” she said. “And there’s still so much need.”
No matter what happens, however, Smith said that the experience has proved one very important point.
“There’s still good people out there,” she said. “Sometimes it just takes a bit of a push to get them to come out of hiding.”