Pablo Lazaro, a father of two, has for 17 years been a cook at the Smithsonian, the world-famous sprawling set of museums and galleries that draws tens of millions of visitors a year.
But these days he tries not to leave his house.
Lazaro is worried that if he goes out he will spend money he doesn't have, he told MSNBC.
He also said he has tried to shield his 7- and 15-year-old daughters from the truth about the family's financial situation as the government shutdown drags into its second month, keeping the Smithsonian closed and its workers furloughed without pay.
"I could lose my home," Lazaro said as he pushed back tears. "We buy food only for today, and tomorrow we only buy for tomorrow."
Some of the lowest-paid workers in government buildings -- such as cooks, janitors, security guards and hospitality workers -- stand to lose the most in the shutdown because they are subcontractors who work for a company rather than directly for the federal government.
That means they are unlikely to receive back pay.
And, hospitality workers like Pablo also face the risk of their health care benefits expiring if the shutdown continues into February, according to union Unite Here.
More than 1,000 such subcontracted, federal workers are in the Washington, D.C., area.
Like Lazaro, they include men and women who serve food to the public every day in federal buildings like the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Department of Commerce and the United States Department of Agriculture. They make on average less than $32,000 a year.
Lazaro works a second job to make ends meet -- he is a cook at an airport. But he said that with the loss of his other income, he worries about not being able to keep up his mortgage payments and potentially losing his family's health care.
As to U.S. elected officials failing so far to resolve the impasse to reopen the government, he says: "They can do something right now before it's too late"
Within hours of his interview with MSNBC on Thursday, a stranger set up a GoFundMe page for Lazaro and some celebrities responded on social media to his story.
"Federal subcontractor gives emotional plea to lawmakers: 'Do something before it's too late,'" Alyssa Milano tweeted.
Lazaro said he is "overwhelmed" by calls he's receiving from around the country.
But he said he just wants to go back to work.
"I like to cook," he said. "I enjoy my job…For me, it's everything."