Chattanoogans help local federal employees affected by shutdown

Dr. Frank Miller, left, and Rabbi Craig Lewis, of Mizpah Congregation, present 60 gift cards for TSA employees to Transportation Security Manager Ryan Lierow Tuesday at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport. The gift cards were worth $20 each, according to Miller.
photo Dr. Frank Miller and Rabbi Craig Lewis, of Mizpah Congregation, deliver 60 gift cards for TSA employees to Transportation Security Manager Ryan Lierow Tuesday at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport. The gift cards were worth $20 each, according to Miller.

As the government shutdown marked its 25th day Tuesday, local residents got creative with how they could help fellow Chattanoogans and federal employees who received zeros on their paychecks Friday.

Dr. Frank Miller of the Mizpah Congregation off McCallie Avenue was so moved by the sermon of the congregation's rabbi, Craig Lewis, last week that he organized members of the synagogue, his friends and neighbors and raised $1,200 in donations for federal employees at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

Lewis said the Jewish religious text the Torah teaches in the book of Leviticus that a person should not hold back a laborer's wages.

"Even without going into who is at fault - who is to blame for the current government shutdown - there's a recognition that there's something terribly wrong when people are working hard and not earning their wages," Lewis said.

Just outside of the airport's security checkpoint Tuesday afternoon, Miller and Lewis presented 60 Walmart gift cards for $20 each to the airport's manager of transportation security, Ryan Lierow. According to Lierow, there are 60 federal workers at the airport, including Transportation Security Administration employees.

There are several limitations when it comes to giving gifts to federal employees, including that it has to be a gift of $20 or less and the same person cannot give more than $50 in one year. However, one federal employee could accept $50 worth of gift cards from a variety of sources, so Miller wants other organizations to know they can still help.

"We want to encourage other organizations to do what we are doing, because by law we can only do so much," Miller said of the synagogue's congregation. "So, if other organizations step up to the plate and join us, we can be very effective with helping people who are in need."

For those interested in helping locally, Miller said to reach out to him for more information. His email is

"At the end of the day, we just want to make sure people know that we recognize that there's something going on that doesn't seem fair or right and that we care about them," said Lewis.

Lierow said federal employees are not allowed to ask the community themselves for assistance.

"What they're doing is phenomenal," Lierow said about the Mizpah Congregation. "It's the community reaching out to us. If the community is coming out and supporting us by their choice, obviously, we will put it to good use for our folks."

The USA Today Network reported that the Second Harvest Food Bank in Knoxville sent emergency meal boxes to affected airports, including Chattanooga's, but Lierow said Tuesday that federal employees had not received any donations yet from the local food bank.

The world's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and some of its related businesses are taking steps to help workers and passengers cope with the partial government shutdown, according to the Associated Press.

Elise Durham, a spokeswoman for the airport, said in an email Tuesday that some concession providers at the airport are providing lunch for unpaid Transportation Security Administration workers. And, Durham said, the airport is providing complimentary parking for those TSA workers who need it.

The moves come as the number of airport security screeners failing to show up for work around the country has been rising. Some passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta waited more than an hour to get through checkpoints Monday.

Albert Waterhouse, head of public relations for Chattanooga's airport, said he can't comment on TSA matters.

"From our perspective, TSA operations have been running as usual - smoothly, and to our knowledge, passengers have not been impacted," Waterhouse said. "We have not received any complaints."

There were minimal lines and fliers at the airport Tuesday afternoon with about seven TSA employees working still.

Elsewhere in Chattanooga, agencies and businesses also are stepping up for federal employees.

Brett Elliott, owner of German Autohaus at 6413 Bonny Oaks Drive in Chattanooga, said the dealership will provide up to $250 in car repairs and service for free for any government employees affected by the shutdown who have European cars. A government-issued ID is needed for the free repairs and/or service.

The United Way of Greater Chattanooga is looking ahead to how an ongoing shutdown will affect locals, too. United Way official Julia Wilhelm said the agency is preparing for an influx of need if the shutdown continues, which might include extra food vouchers for anyone without food stamps and making special requests of church partners.

Wilhelm said the best thing right now is for anyone who needs help to call 211, United Way's helpline, during business hours and they'll be connected to services based on needs, such as food or rental assistance. Most of the requests on United Way's 211 hotline are for food assistance, officials have said.

"We figure there's no harm in preparing for this thing to go on for a while, although that's certainly not what we hope," she said.

Contact Allison Shirk Collins at, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.