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Aroostook restaurants offer free meal to those affected by shutdown

HOULTON, Maine — As the longest shutdown in U.S. history drags on, a pair of businesses in Aroostook are hoping to ease the burden on those impacted by it.

Jim Bell, owner of Wired Cafe, which is located at 23 Market Square in Houlton, announced on Facebook Friday that his restaurant would provide a free soup/sandwich lunch with hot coffee to anyone negatively impacted by the shutdown. He only encouraged those taking advantage of his offer to tell him how they were impacted and to tip the service person as generously as they were able.

On Saturday, Judy and Cliff Boudman, the owners of Cafe Sorpreso in Presque Isle, issued a similar proposal. The Boudmans posted on their restaurant’s Facebook page that any federal employee who has been furloughed or forced to work without pay is eligible for a free lunch at Cafe Sorpreso or Cafe Demoiselles “next week and beyond until the federal shutdown is over.”

Approximately 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed since Dec. 21 due to the shutdown, while another 420,000 are being required to work without pay, according to government statistics . A number of those employees missed their first paycheck on Friday, but President Donald Trump and Congress remain at a political stalemate over Trump’s demand for $5 billion for a border wall.

Bell said that since he posted the offer on Facebook, more than 15,000 people have seen it. He said that he was “blown away” by the number of people who reacted so positively to what he was doing.

“I really didn’t expect that,” he said. “I just heard from a man whose son works for the border patrol and he is not getting his paycheck, and I also heard a few other stories. I just thought, ‘What can I do?’ I think this is the kind of thing that everyone should do, not just during a shutdown like this, but for anyone who is having a hard time paying their rent or meeting some other need.”

He added that an individual even came into the restaurant, gave him $15 and thanked him for what he was doing.

Bell said that he has not yet had anyone take advantage of his offer, but that he would continue to make it available until the shutdown is over.

“It is a cold time of year to go without a paycheck,” he said.

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