CAPE MAY – A local response to the impact of last winter’s partial government shutdown on Coast Guard personnel grew into a national movement. Cape May recently honored the woman who started it at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May.
Jessica Manfre had already been recognized as the Military Spouse of the Year for the US Coast Guard, chosen from nominees from around the country. Next, she will be considered among the nominees for the Military Spouse of the Year, which includes every branch of the armed services, Cape May City Councilwoman Patricia Gray Hendricks said.
“Boy, do we wish her well,” Hendricks told hundreds of residents gathered at a town hall meeting May 1 at Cape May Convention Hall as the city honored Manfre as one of the outstanding community volunteers for Cape May.
Manfre is married to Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Manfre. They have two children.
The result of a fight over funding for President Trump’s proposal for a border wall in a federal appropriations bill, the partial government shutdown was the longest US government shutdown in history. A quarter of federal operations were shut down, with thousands of employees being furloughed or asked to work without pay over the 35 days.
“Some people felt the impact of the partial shutdown of the federal government more than others. Given that the Coast Guard Training Center Cape May was directly affected meant we all were affected, said Hendricks. “At least one person at TraCen Cape May took action. She conceived a way to help the TraCen families so that we could all get involved and offer our help, too.”
Manfre got permission to open a food pantry on base, Hendricks said, providing food, toiletries and other essentials to Coast Guard families who were trying to get by without a paycheck. She and used social media to gather donations.
“Jessica and others spent countless hours stocking and restocking the pantry and overseeing the distribution of gift cards and cash donations,” Hendricks said.
Also that evening, Cape May honored the Jersey Cape Military Spouses’ Club and the Cape May Chapter of the Chief Petty Officer Association. Hendricks said for Manfre and her family, the Cape May honor comes just in time. After a reassignment, the family will soon move to St. Louis, Missouri.
Jessica Manfre described the process as overwhelming and unbelievable.
“I had a small idea, and because of all of you, it grew into a movement that surpassed any of our wildest dreams,” she said.
Manfre said she wanted to offer some comfort to families who were suddenly struggling to make ends meet.
“My husband’s a culinary expert. Maybe that’s why I thought of food first,” she said.
Within days, the pantry had expanded as more of the community got involved.
“The astounding donations day after day continually moved us to tears,” Manfre said.
Before long, she said, donations began to come in from throughout New Jersey and then from around the country. It allowed her to expand the project to serve Coast Guard families around the country and as far away as the United Kingdom.