Jacket zipped up against the chilly winter weather, Shawn Faiella stood on the shoulder of Third Street in front of his home Sunday, waving as the cars drove past.
A few drivers slowed, honked or waved at Faiella after catching sight of the sign he held, a piece of posterboard taped to a rake with the slogan “Furloughed Feds Yard Sale.”
Faiella, a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, is one of the roughly 800,000 federal employees furloughed as part of the ongoing partial government shutdown.
The shutdown, which entered its 23rd day Sunday and became the longest shutdown in U.S. history at the start of the weekend, hit another milestone at the end of the last week: the first missed paycheck for the federal workers who’ve been told they must stay home.
Faiella and 10 of his fellow Forest Service employees decided to do something to help bring awareness to the issue, organizing the garage sale on the front yard of Faiella’s home.
“It’s not just a national thing, it’s in small towns. It’s right here, it’s real, it’s happening to people you know,” he said.
The partial shutdown has reached an impasse, with President Donald Trump refusing to sign spending bills to reopen shuttered federal departments until Congress approves his request for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats have refused to provide such funding.
Faiella said he typically starts and ends every day checking in to see if there have been any developments on the shutdown, but also tries to keep himself busy and make the best of things.
“You reach a certain point where it will just break when it breaks,” he said.
Forest Service workers like those at Sunday’s garage sale are likely to receive back pay when the government fully reopens (President Trump has said he will sign legislation passed by Congress to do so), but Faiella said it’s still been difficult for many.
“It’s not a political thing. We’re not taking sides, we just hope that people see that there are a lot of people in the Missoula area who have been directly affected,” he said.
Benji Hegg said ordinarily he would be spending the first few weeks of a new year in his office with the U.S. Forest Service.
“This time in January, we are focused on getting people hired, getting seasonal employees lined up and making sure we have firefighting crews figured out for the summer,” he said.
It’s administrative work, reading stacks of resumes and making character reference phone calls to start winnowing a list of applicants, but it’s just one of the necessary steps to make sure the region is ready for fire season.
But Hegg, who’s been with the Forest Service in the Missoula area for 20 years, hasn’t been able to start on hiring, instead taking part in what he refers to as a “forced unpaid vacation.”
“I’ve gone out ice fishing, sledding, spending time with my kids,” he said. “I know there are a lot of people who are in a lot worse shape with missing paychecks, but I just try to make the best of it.”
Hegg, one of a group of Forest Service employees who have been part of a group text message keeping each other updated during the shutdown, said he thought it was a great idea when someone pitched the idea of organizing the yard sale as a way to draw attention to the local impact of the shutdown and make a bit of cash as well.
“It’s more like a family, we take care of each other,” he said. “With the signs, we’ve had about 50 people so far this morning driving by honking and waving. Seems like it’s working.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.