East Hampton Steps Up to Help Coast Guard Neighbors

Joshua Borsack, at his desk at Strong Insurance Agency in East Hampton, showed just a fraction of the gift cards he and his wife, Summer Borsack, have collected for Coast Guard members stationed in Montauk. Carissa Katz

As members of the Coast Guard stationed in Montauk and Shinnecock continue to stand watch, braving dangerously low temperatures on the water without the benefit of a paycheck in this fifth week of the partial government shutdown, the East Hampton community is coming together to take care of them.

"We are doing all we are able to do to get the support of the local community to support our Montauk Coast Guard,” said Summer Borsack, who, with her husband, Joshua Borsack, started a drive at his business, Strong Insurance Agency in East Hampton. "It not only helps meet their obvious immediate needs, but to build morale as these people are working without pay in freezing weather conditions," Ms. Borsack said.

There are 27 members at Coast Guard Station Montauk and 11 assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Bonito, a separate unit out of Montauk. Most live in Montauk or Springs. A few who work at Coast Guard Station Shinnecock also live in Springs. They are among 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members who did not receive pay on Jan. 15, the first time in the nation's history that service members have not been paid during a shutdown, according to a statement from Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz.

About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay since the shutdown began on Dec. 22. President Donald Trump is demanding $5.7 billion to pay for wall at the southern border, and he is at an impasse with the Democrat-controlled House, with neither willing to approve funding-tied legislation. 

Unlike other branches of the military, the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, whose agencies are affected by the shutdown. Active-duty personnel are considered essential workers who must continue their duties with the promise they will receive back pay. When, however, no one knows. 

The uncertainty has triggered several members of the community to collect donations for their neighbors who are serving in the Coast Guard.

The East Hampton Food Pantry is also answering the call to help and has started a collection for the Station Montauk families. "We want to show our appreciation for these brave men and women for what they do to help protect and serve the community,” said Vicki Littman, the chairwoman of the food pantry. Those wishing to contribute are asked to drop off nonperishable foods at the food pantry building behind Town Hall at 159 Pantigo Road in East Hampton, Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. 

The Borsacks have had several friends who served in the Coast Guard over the years. After checking in with the family of a Coast Guard member who runs the cutter out of Montauk, they were moved to lend a hand. "It started off with a small conversation, seeing how their family is doing. It evolved into something bigger fairly quickly after seeing there was an immediate need," Ms. Borsack said.

In just a few short days since the drive began last week, the Borsacks collected nonperishable foods, hygiene products, paper products, gift cards, and more. "The community has been so generous," Mr. Borsack said. 

The American Legion in Amagansett is taking donations daily between 2 and 7 p.m. for Coast Guard families, asking for gift cards to local restaurants and grocery stores, monetary gift cards, and toiletries, canned goods, and other essential items. 

Both the Borsacks and the American Legion are working with the United States Coast Chief Petty Officers Association, a nonprofit made up of active and retired Coast Guard members that is not affiliated with the Coast Guard, an important point because federal ethics regulations prohibit members from directly accepted donations. However, the Coast Guard's legal officials in New London issued a determination recently that allows Coasties to accept donations through the C.P.O.A. because it disseminates donations equally and does not favor those with a higher rank.

A truckload of groceries was picked up at Strong Insurance on Friday and the monetary donations that have come in so far have been handed over, as well. The Borsacks are trying to distribute the donations almost as quickly as they receive them. 

The couple, members of East Hampton Presbyterian Church who also serve on boards there, said the church offered monetary donations through the board of deacons and its mission committee and even held a special offering on Sunday to give to the C.P.O.A. Mr. Borsack said Monday that the church and deacons have pledged over $4,000 to the cause.

Scot McCachren, the church pastor, also reached out to the East Hampton Clericus, made up of churches and synagogue leaders on the South Fork, for donations. "We have also reached out to local civic organizations for donations. We are members of Rotary, and they agreed to a donation of $1,000. One of the carriers we work with through Strong Insurance Agency, Security Mutual, is looking to make a donation," Ms. Borsack said. Some local businesses, like One Stop Market and Luigi's, have donated gift cards. She is trying to get donations from the grocery stores as well.

"It's so important that the Coast Guard experience community support during this time. We can be present for them while they are working hard without pay," Ms. Borsack said.

Meanwhile, other members of the business community are also finding ways to help. At East Hampton Physical Therapy in Montauk, military and furloughed government employees can enjoy free physical therapy services for the next two weeks. "We can’t take your financial pain away, but we can certainly help with your physical pain," Dr. Rachel Lys posted on her office’s Facebook page.

By phone on Monday, Dr. Lys said she saw that a friend in the Coast Guard who used to live in Montauk but lives in Georgia now, was asking for toilet paper. "It really pulled at my heart. It's through no fault of their own. Their job is keeping us safe, and they can't even provide for their own," she said.  

Strong Insurance Agency, which is at 41 Pantigo Road, across from the East Hampton Post Office, will take donations Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (The office is closed Monday in observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.) 

Requested items include nonperishable food, toilet paper, personal hygiene items, toiletries, laundry items, trash bags, paper towels, cleaning items, and gift cards to local food stores and eateries, for entertainment, and for gas. Checks can be payable to the Chief Petty Officers Association. Ms. Borsack can be reached at summerborsack@gmail.com.   

A truck load full of groceries, as well as other goods seen here at the Strong Insurance Agency's office, have already been handed over to the U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association to be handed out to Coast Guard members and their families.Summer Borsack