ATLANTIC CITY — Though the city’s casinos are set to reopen next week, the 25% capacity limit will keep many of the industry’s workforce in need of the essentials.
On Thursday, several organizations came together once again to feed 2,250 families as they wait for things to gradually get back to normal.
The Community Food Bank of New Jersey, in collaboration with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, AFL-CIO, Local 54 and other private donors, held its fourth food drive at the city’s Bader Field.
The drives, which the organizations have been doing biweekly, feed casino employees still out of work and other Atlantic City residents in need.
“I’m hugely proud to be a part of the Atlantic City community,” Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City part-owner Joe Jingoli said. “I think this is the best of government, organized labor and industry (coming) together, solving a real problem here, which is food insecurity among the workers.”
Cars began lining up on the tarmac of the former airport runway for the 10 a.m. drive as early as 7:30 a.m. Once all volunteers were present and the drive-thru lanes were set up, they began letting cars through at 9:30 a.m. Lead organizers for the project were pleased with how much better they’ve gotten at handling the demand.
“It’s kind of on autopilot now,” said Kimberly Arroyo, Community Food Bank director of agency relations and programs. “The first couple of drives, I had to be out there telling them what to do, but now that we’ve got a groove and the volunteers have been coming consistently, I let them do it.”
Cars were directed to go to onto the tarmac and into six different lines to receive food. They first had to go through a registration checkpoint, and those that didn’t register online had to give their information in person. Once that process was done, the cars slowly drove toward the food checkpoints with their trunks open. The first box cars received included canned goods, and the second box had produce. Flyers were also handed out which included lists of other local food pantries.
For anyone wanting food without a car, a walk-up distribution area was set up behind the Flyers Skate Zone. Jingoli provided a jitney for the walk-up crowd.
According to Denis Hladun, the Community Food Bank director of external affairs, Feed A.C. received 800 online registrations, and she anticipated anywhere between a few dozen and more than 100 walk-ups.
Thursday’s smooth operation was a significant improvement from the drive the Community Food Bank and Local 54 held before the casinos got involved. The organizations held it at Egg Harbor Township’s Harbor Square shopping plaza, and traffic was backed up two miles on either side of the Black Horse Pike.
“We learned we had to plan a lot more,” Local 54 President Bob McDevitt said. “We learned that you can’t just show up with food. You’ve got to have an orderly distribution of it. Ever since we came (to Bader Field), each time it gets more and more efficient.”
When Jingoli got wind of the drive at Harbor Square, he gave his friend McDevitt a call and simply said, “Let’s team up.” Shortly after, the drive had support from the CRDA, city casinos and other unions. In total, approximately half a million dollars was donated to supply the food.
Two more drives are planned for July 8 and 22, though many anticipate the need to go well into next spring. If Thursday’s atmosphere was a reflection of what the city is capable of, Jingoli is optimistic that the city can bounce back.
“People are being kind to each other, and we’re being supportive of each other,” Jingoli said, “and that’s what’s going to make Atlantic City sustainable. That’s what’s going to allow us to come out of this, and hopefully messages like this get out to our guests, and they’ll feel safe to come to our city.”