Shutdown philanthropy: Americans lend a helping hand to those in need

By Erika Angulo, Reporter, NBC News

MARION, Iowa -- More than 950 miles from Capitol Hill, a group of Iowa mothers has teamed up to keep the federal government shutdown from affecting the health of babies in their community. They're handing out baby food, formula and cereal to low-income mothers who depend on a federally-funded nutrition program for women, infants and children, also known as WIC.

"We're just a bunch of women that got together and want to help each other out," said Teresa Diers, a volunteer with the group Helping Hands During the WIC Freeze. Volunteers coordinate efforts through the group's Facebook page

Diers is one of hundreds of Americans across the country helping those impacted by the shutdown. She got involved because she was concerned babies who get their nourishment through WIC would start suffering after the program's money runs out.

Four-year-old twins Revee and Trevin Diers, the children of Teresa Diers, have both benefited from the WIC program. Courtesy of Teresa Diers

The program helped her own family when her husband lost his job and finances became very tight four years ago. The Diers have four children including a boy, 15, who struggles with autism and a girl, 4, who has been on a feeding tube for most of her life.

"It's very important that we give these babies everything they can get right now for proper brain growth," Diers said.

Some 65,900 families rely on WIC in Iowa alone. 

Neighbors helping neighbors

Sunny Story, an Iowa resident, drops off more than $175 in baby food, formula and cereal for the group Helping Hands During the WIC Freeze. Courtesy of Teresa Diers

Over in Colorado, Alpine Bank has set aside $13 million to loan furloughed federal workers interest-free money until they start getting paid again.

"The people we are trying to help are our neighbors, their kids go to school with our kids, we see them at church, they are the folks who live and work in our community," said bank president Glen Jammaron. Federal workers need to bring their last pay stub as proof of employment. So far 40 people have taken advantage of the loan offer that started last week. 

In Oklahoma City, Okla., owners of the La Gumbo Ya Ya food truck are giving furloughed employees free meals. Workers just have to show up with the furlough notices. Some of the items on the menu: crab gumbo, sausage jambalaya and bread pudding.

And at Curley's House, a community outreach center in Miami, Fla., assistant director LaVerne Holliday says she has seen hundreds more come through the center's doors since the shutdown started, as many as 400 a day.

"A lot of people that have lost their jobs and are not working, need the benefits and need to eat," she said. Their food bank is running low in donations, especially milk and baby formula.

"Mothers are having to dilute the milk to be able to stretch it," said Curley's House founder Lavern Scott. "That's affecting the way the child is going to develop mentally and heart-wise, so that's causing a real serious health issue."

'I didn't realize how kind people were'

Back in Marion, Iowa, Danika Sam is grateful for the efforts of the women running the Helping Hands During WIC Freeze program.

"When the shutdown happened I was like, 'Oh my gosh, what are we gonna do?,'" said Sam, who brought her baby daughter to pick up formula at a volunteer's home. "It definitely helps us get by."

Volunteer Sarah Bush has made room in her garage to store the boxes of donations. Helping other mothers has taught her a lesson.

"I was very surprised with how many people were willing to help," she said. "I didn't realize how kind people were until we did this."

Victoria Moll Ramirez contributed to this report.