ATLANTIC CITY — Lyndora Crouch got in line a half hour before Southern Jersey Family Medical Centers’ food giveaway was set to start Saturday, a black mask printed with a white smile pulled over her mouth and nose.
“You can’t see my smile, so I have to wear it,” Crouch said. “If you get here any other time, the line’s gonna be long.”
The event, which also included a back-to-school giveaway in the parking lot on South Carolina Avenue across from City Hall, started at 10 a.m. Dozens of people were lined up with boxes, bags and carts by the time it started, and cars had begun to line up for contactless pickup.
Each family got a box of fresh produce through the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, book bags for children and other necessities, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
Usually, the group recognizes National Health Center Week, a national campaign to raise awareness of the mission and accomplishments of health centers across the country and the staff who bring health care to the medically underserved, with a large event.
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This year, the COVID-19 pandemic caused plans to change.
“Our community has been adversely affected by COVID-19,” said Linda Flake, president and CEO of Southern Jersey Family Medical Centers. “People are out of work, struggling to get food on the table.”
Flake said the pandemic has forced many to choose between paying the bills and buying food.
“This year, we’ve trying to meet the need for food,” she said. “The need is tremendous.”
Waiting in line, city resident John Hornberger stood patiently.
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“I think it’s good that people are helping people,” Hornberger said. “It’s hard for everyone right now, and people should stick together.”
But, while acknowledging the struggles many face right now, Doreen Rose said there are many opportunities in the city to get help, especially with food.
“They’re helping us to make sure we survive the pandemic,” she said, adding she had just stopped in a nearby park where other volunteers were giving away coffee and socks.
“You can’t say you’re starving in Atlantic City,” she said. “And if you have extra, you bag it up and give it to someone who needs it.”
Crouch said she’s been struggling to pay her bills during the pandemic, adding it’s so important for the community to have events like this.
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“It’s very hard out here,” Crouch said. “Come out, wear a mask, wash your hands and be thankful for what people are doing for you.”
For more information, visit sjfmc.org.