INDIANAPOLIS As of midnight on Tuesday, the federal government failed to submit payroll, meaning no paychecks will be issued on Friday. We are beyond the “partial” shutdown as funding expires for many agencies, and more than 20,000 federal employees in Indiana go unpaid. Many Hoosiers facing an actual crisis, not the manufactured one coming from the White House.

To add insult to injury, federal employees deemed “essential” such as TSA agents and air traffic controllers will continue working without pay for the duration of the stoppage. The failure of leadership on every level during this shutdown hasn’t been the surprise. The surprise has been the incredible lack of empathy from many business leaders, as if getting a paycheck from the United States Government is something employees should consider an honor. It’s as if — somehow — smart, savvy businesspeople have abandoned all common sense when it comes to a political personality they support.

If a person could see past political ideology and talk-radio rhetoric to see their neighbors’ suffering, they’d witness a wholly different reality. One where households with one — or even two — government workers will be struggling to pay next month’s rent. A reality where parents are picking up part-time jobs and asking friends and family for childcare support.  A reality where otherwise financially stable families need a food bank. One where morale is sinking and, once the kids go to bed, parents have difficult conversations about the coming weeks if the stalemate in Washington continues.

In response, a few Indianapolis restaurant owners have become excellent examples of community engagement, showing us how a new generation of business leaders will step up and do what they can to make a difference for their community — in this case for furloughed government workers. 

Neal Brown, owner of the Indianapolis-based Pizzology chain as well as Ukiyo and Libertine, began offering meals for free to unpaid government workers nearly as quickly as the shutdown began (the offer isn’t valid at Libertine since they don’t serve much food). Government employees with a notice of furlough or government ID can feed their families for free. The response has been strong.

Other restaurants – including Scarlet Lane Brewery and the new Greek’s Pizza on 16th Street in Indianapolis – have also offered to feed government employees until the lights come back on. And Invoke Yoga has offered free classes to unpaid workers which could presumably come in handy for those with rising blood pressure over this mess.  

A group of restaurateurs including Craig Mariutto of Shoefly Public House and Brown are organizing and delivering meals for air traffic controllers at Indianapolis International Airport. This support is especially important, as one can only imagine how much worse the airport situation will be in coming days.

One might wonder why more companies haven’t gone public about offering assistance; perhaps business owners suspect this sort of offer will be abused. I hope those days are behind us. Instead, let us look forward to community-based leadership wherein small-business owners who care about the world around them can create grassroots efforts to offer real help to those in need. 

Brown and his peers are quick to say donating goods and services is a personal decision and that not all business owners feel the same – and that’s OK. “It’s a personal decision first and a business decision second and that calculus isn’t the same for everyone,“ Brown says. He also notes the Indianapolis hospitality community is incredibly engaged and supports everything from not-for-profit fundraisers to in-house programs that don’t get much press.  

It will be hard to track the many ways in which small companies might support federal workers in the coming days.  Some may be making food bank donations or creating employee assistance programs for workers whose families are unable to pay major bills. But it’s equally hard to ignore the silence emanating from many major businesses in the city about support for those hurt by the shutdown.

Regardless of where you fall in the debate about Trump’s wall, it’s time for more business owners to step up and help until the shutdown is over. Don’t want to offer free service? That’s OK. Support an organization that’s helping in other ways.  Brown notes that many people have called to offer donations, which are appreciated as the meals are having an impact on his bottom line.  

This new generation of leaders in Indiana will create change. And as our world becomes increasingly uncertain, it’s time to decide if you will be a part of that change.  It will be good for us all. 

Wilmeth is a publishing business consultant and Indianapolis-based writer, editor, and food lover. She writes on food, wine, leadership, and communication.