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DENVER – No one knows when federal workers will get their next paycheck. Now a group of middle school students is helping to make sure TSA agents at least know when they’ll get their next meal.

Monday morning, students in Shasta Smith’s 6th grade homeroom class spend the period writing letters to people they’ve never met.

“Dear TSA agent or to whom it concerns,” student Jaylen Fleming wrote.

“Thank you for keeping all of us safe even though you guys do a lot of work and don’t get paid,” Amala Ozoma read from another note.

“My school is going to be helping you on getting food to eat,” Danielle Sor read from a third letter.

The sixth, seventh and eight graders go to school at Denver School of Science & Technology Green Valley Ranch Middle School which is about 15 minutes away from Denver International Airport.

“These people are only 15 minutes away and they got paychecks that said zero on Friday,” Smith said. “You can ask your mortgage company to postpone your mortgage bill but you can’t ask King Soopers, hey, can I pay you next week?”

Her class came up with the idea to do a food drive to help TSA agents who are working through the shutdown without pay make ends meet.

“At first we just started throwing in little donations and then that’s when everybody in the school said, oh, we’d like to throw in more donations,” Fleming said.

So far they have collected box full of pasta, canned goods, Jell-O and other non-perishable items. There is even a box of Red Lobster biscuit mix.

Right now, the pile is small. But, the donations mean more than meets the eye.

“The majority of our kids are on free and reduced lunch themselves,” Smith said.

She estimates at least seven out of ten students at the school come from families that rely on food banks to eat at home.

“I think they have a unique understanding of what some of these agents are going through,” Smith said.

Fleming says his family has had to ask for help getting enough to eat “lots of times.” When his family can’t afford to buy food, he says he often eats at a friend’s house.

“We’d do anything for each other,” he said.

Student Council representative Danielle Sor says her family often goes hungry too.

“We also have a food bank where we could donate some food for other people or if there’s no food for us we can also use some food too,” she said.

Fellow student council member Amala Ozoma says her family does not experience food insecurities but that they regularly donate to food pantries because so many other families need help.

“If this was me in this situation I think people would help me,” she said.

The children are hoping to collect enough donations to keep Denver’s TSA agents fed throughout the rest of the shutdown.

“They’re still doing their job. They could just go quit right now but they’re still out there protecting us so why not go out as a community and help them,” Fleming said.

If you would like to contribute to the food drive, non-perishable food donations can be dropped off at the front office of DSST Green Valley Ranch Middle School (4800 Telluride Street, Building 3, Denver).