ATLANTIC CITY — Nancy Katz lives in the resort, which has been called a food desert for the past decade, but she doesn’t let that fact keep her from eating fresh fruit, vegetables and meats.
For the past three years, Katz, 72, has been taking regular shuttle rides from her home at Best of Life Apartments to the ShopRite in Absecon, courtesy of Atlantic County’s Division of Intergenerational Services.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state, the shuttle did not run. Katz decided to have her fresh food delivered from the Absecon ShopRite to her home. It cost her — a retiree living on a fixed income — an extra $34 a month in expenses for tips and fees.
“It’s my favorite store for grocery shopping,” Katz said. “We learned what that (the shuttle) was worth.”
In 2019, the New Jersey Hospital Association developed a Vulnerable Communities Database that shows many of the zip codes hit hardest by COVID were the same as those identified before the pandemic by the association’s vulnerable communities algorithm.
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The 08401 zip code of “America’s Favorite Playground” ranked the sixth worst in the state, out of 537 zip codes.
Among the categories in which the city fared poorly were fetal deaths, unemployment and households in food deserts.
Limited access to healthy food
The resort ranked 517th out of 537 in the state when it came to households in food deserts, the association said last month.
When people live in an area with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables and meats and increase their intake of packaged, processed and fast foods as a result, they increase the chances of multiple health issues including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, said Kelsey Allen, an advance practice nurse for Shore Physicians Group.
In two years, the food access problem for the resort’s residents will be improved when an $18.7 million ShopRite opens on a property that now serves as a parking lot on Baltic Avenue.
“Atlantic City will no longer need to make the trip to the mainland to do a full shop, as they will now have direct access to a large assortment of fresh produce, meat, seafood and dairy products along with other fresh prepared foods and better for you grab-and-go meals,” said Bill Sumas, chairman of the board for family-operated Village Super Market Inc., which operates ShopRite stores.
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In the meantime, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey tries to decrease food insecurity by distributing 300,000 pounds of food monthly in the city.
Neighborhood grocers, such as Boom Food Market, Brighton Grocery & Produce, Cedar Basic Food and 7-Eleven, are helping to fill the void.
Shawn Rinnier, president of Save Philly Stores, owns the Save A Lot discount grocer in Renaissance Plaza. Rinnier, an independent retailer, took over as the new owner of Save A Lot last January.
“Over the last 8 to 10 months, we’ve increased our produce, meats, international and national brands, and our sales have grown dramatically,” Rinnier said.
High rate of those without jobs
Many resort residents deal with food insecurity because they don’t have money for fresh food due to being unemployed.
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With a 12.9% unemployment rate, the city ranks 523 out of 537 zip codes in the state.
A number of programs exist to help residents find meaningful employment. Isaac Wiggins, 43, who lives here and was unemployed last year, took advantage of the commercial driver’s license program offered at the Pleasantville One Stop Career Center by the Atlantic County Office of Workforce Development.
Now, Wiggins is a laborer who works at A.E. Stone Inc. in Egg Harbor Township and can drive a dump truck, a crash truck (a safety truck built to protect workers doing highway repairs) and a lowboy truck, which hauls oversized loads.
“I always wanted to elevate myself,” Wiggins said, adding he moved into his own apartment after earning his CDL. “I wanted to drive a truck. Class A is the highest level of a CDL that I can get.”
The Workforce Development Board also has training programs for medical assisting, cosmetology, computerized accounting and other jobs where grants are available to help defray the costs for those who are eligible, said Francis F. Kuhn, the organization’s executive director.
“One of the things we are trying is training for jobs rather than occupational training,” Kuhn said.
City Council approved Michael Voll as Cape May’s city manager in a remotely held meeting Thursday.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority voted in February to provide $492,780 for a free job training program at Atlantic Cape Community College’s Worthington Campus in the resort.
“Of jobs that are available now, health care is one of the areas. Medical assistants, paramedics and EMTs are consistently filled,” said Sherwood L. Taylor, senior director of workforce development for Atlantic Cape. Blackjack and roulette dealers are also in demand, Taylor said.
Joseph R. Jingoli Jr., CEO of the Jingoli development firm, said the job training and preparedness programs his companies have put in place with their partners in the building trades and Friends in Action have resulted in the placement of young people and adults in meaningful careers in Atlantic City.
“These careers include work within Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic (City) Electric, and the building and construction trades,” said Jingoli, who is also the co-owner of the Hard Rock.
There are also growing industries to look forward to. If Ørsted, developer of the state’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm, receives all its approvals, it plans to build an operations and maintenance building in the resort and a wind farm off the coast of the city, which would both be operational in 2024.
This year, the CRDA awarded a community development grant to the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City totaling nearly $2.2 million to expand workforce development and college readiness programming.
CRDA also approved $2.25 million for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68 Training and Office Facility Project.
“I think the investments have been worthwhile by the CRDA. You could make the argument that these investments should have been made years ago,” said Matthew J. Doherty, CRDA’s executive director.
A healthy start essential
Of course, city residents first have to survive being born before they can face the challenges that may await them as adults. When it comes to fetal deaths, the city ranks 501 out of 537 zip codes in the state.
The Center for Childbirth at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center includes the region’s only neonatal intensive care unit.
AtlantiCare is building a $38.3 million Medical Arts Pavilion, which is anticipated to open late next year, to enhance its programs and services that address community health and wellness issues, including addressing disparities in health care in the city.
Among the programs AtlantiCare will expand are Safe Beginnings, Maternal Fetal Medicine and Family Planning.
A number of programs are operating in the city in that regard, all aimed at improving infant and maternal health, including an Atlantic City NAACP Branch Infant and Maternal Mortality Task Force that has been in existence for almost two years.
Improving infant and maternal health is an ongoing fight here.
“Obviously, we haven’t solved the problem, but we’re in the fight,” 3rd Ward Councilman and NAACP Atlantic City chapter President Kaleem Shabazz said. “We are working.”
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