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Huntington bakery offers free meal amid shutdown

The River and Rail Bakery in Huntington is offering weekly free lunches to federal employees laid off as a result of the partial government shutdown.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees were furloughed last week after Congress failed to reach a budget deal, including some 23,000 workers in West Virginia.

River and Rail owner Kim Baker said her business receives many regular customers from a nearby Army Corps of Engineers office, and many of those employees have now been laid off.

Baker said she decided to offer those customers a free lunch last Wednesday to ease the pain a little bit.

The restaurant had purchased bratwurst to sell at an event in Huntington, but had lots of leftovers. Baker decided that, if someone showed up with a federal ID, they could have a brat sandwich for free.

About 10 people took her up on the offer.

"We knew we wanted to do something to help them through hard times," she said.

"We want to feed people. We're a community. Those folks who work for those agencies who are furloughed, they support us. So in my mind, it's my responsibility to support them."

Baker decided to give away another free lunch special again this Wednesday, fixing beans and cornbread.

Again, turnout wasn't heavy - at 2 p.m., the restaurant had given out fewer than 10 meals - but Baker said other customers showed up because they liked the free lunch gesture.

"We'll probably do this every Wednesday until they go back to work," she said. "It's the right thing to do. It's the Golden Rule. It's just that simple."

The Golden Rule features prominently at Baker's bakery. River and Rail donates its leftover bread to local food banks and food pantries, and often gives away gift certificates for fundraisers.

"We try as much as we can afford, to give back to the community as much as we can," Baker said.

In addition to traditional baked goods and coffee, River and Rail Bakery offers four different kinds of hot sandwiches, including a vegan sloppy joe. The shop also sells pre-made grab-and-go sandwiches, soup and salads.

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