Transportation Security Administration employees at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) have established a free food and toiletries pantry to assist employees in the airport community who have been laid off or seen their work hours and paychecks reduced due to the significant decrease in travelers as a result of the pandemic.
Similar to the pantry at Washington Dulles International Airport, it provides a one-stop shop for airport employees who are in need. Shanita Wylie, a TSA program analyst at DCA who assisted the TSA’s employee morale group coordinate the opening of the pantry explained the reasoning behind it. “Just over a year ago federal employees were furloughed and were provided so much support by the entire airport community and now we are here continuing the trend of support and showing them our appreciation.”
Individuals are asked to bring their own shopping bag to the office where the pantry is located. There is a table at the doorway where individuals approach. Here, they are provided with a shopping list of goods available and they can mark it with which items they would like. Then an off-duty TSA employee will take the list and fill the shopping bag with items on the list. Items include cereal, evaporated milk, soup, pasta, pasta sauce, Ramen noodles, canned meats, macaroni and cheese, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, feminine products, diapers, deodorant and many additional items.
Some “shoppers” are exchanging items for which they have a surplus at home. “One woman had several cans of carrots that her children did not like, so she dropped them off here and we were able to give her some rice that she wanted. It worked like a swap,” Wylie explained.
TSA officers are donating cash, products and gift cards to keep the pantry stocked. “We’re paying it forward for those who helped us when we were not receiving paychecks,” Wylie said. The difference, however, is that TSA employees eventually were paid for the time they worked. The airport contractors and airline employees who have been laid off or had their work hours reduced will not be paid.
Kavita Harvin has been a TSA officer for 19 months and volunteers to work at the pantry for two hours before her security shift begins. She has donated items such as beans, rice, canned goods, bottled water and hygiene products. During her shifts she has seen a continual flow of individuals who come to pick up what they need and she noted that one-can meals and dried beans are popular food items.
“We have a lot of food here, but the paper towels, toilet paper and toiletries are what is often hard to find in stores,” said TSA officer Briana Battle. So when her family recently went shopping, she picked up extra paper towels and Tide laundry pods to contribute to the pantry. Battle was a new employee during the government shutdown and saw first-hand how the airport community helped TSA officers, which is why she has volunteered her time to staff the pantry and donate goods.
During the government shutdown, “my husband was the only one who was bringing in a paycheck for our family of four,” recalls Tara Simmons, a 12-year TSA veteran. “This is a good opportunity for me to show my gratitude for when my family was impacted by what was happening. Airport workers are essential and they can’t get to the stores right away when they restock shelves.” She observed that the most popular items at the pantry include deodorant, toilet paper and diapers more so than food items.
The pantry is open weekdays for a few hours each day. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority provides the space for the pantry in Terminal A across the hall from TSA’s Lost and Found Office.