“I couldn’t imagine bearing the burden and not getting paid with a wife and two kids,” says James O'Neil, president of the Watchkeepers Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club Rhode Island and a Middletown police officer.

James O’Neil is now a Middletown police officer but he remembers the uncertainty he felt when he was an active-duty member of the Coast Guard during a previous government shutdown.

Making ends meet for those at the bottom of the pay scale is hard enough in normal circumstances, let alone when nobody knows when the next payday will be, he explained.

Since the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22, it is estimated that 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay. Among them are the roughly 40,000 active-duty Coast Guard members working without pay plus the branch’s civilian workforce. A one-time action ensured they were paid Dec. 31, but it is unclear whether a similar exception will be made for their next payday on Tuesday.

The Department of Defense is funded during the shutdown but the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

A retired member of the Portsmouth Police Department called O’Neil on Friday to describe how some individuals at Coast Guard Station Castle Hill in Newport are struggling to afford basic necessities for their families.

“I couldn’t imagine bearing the burden and not getting paid with a wife and two kids,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil, who is also president of the Watchkeepers Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club Rhode Island, solicited donations from his Police Department and mobilized his club to lend support. Part of the Watchkeepers mission, he said, is serving fellow law enforcement officers and members of the armed services. The collection drive is intended to alleviate some of the stress amid the uncertainty, “doing what we can do to pick them back up,” O’Neil said.

Going without is not an option, added Eric Cormier, a Newport police officer and vice president of the club. “We all have kids and can’t allow that to happen,” he said.

Federal regulations prohibit the club from pooling its collections and presenting a check to the station, he said. Instead, O’Neil said he will use the donations to purchase $20 gift cards from Walmart and deliver them to the station Monday.

If others are struggling as the partial shutdown persists, the Watchkeepers will be there. “If other units are in need, we’re here to help,” O’Neil said.

For more information or to donate, contact James O’Neil t jaoneil@yahoo.com.

dgomes@newportri.com