Laid-off Atlantic City casino workers pick up food donations. The line was 2 miles long.
Wednesday 22nd April 2020
By Chris Franklin | For NJ.com and Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Carol Peace sat in the driver's seat of her car Wednesday morning. As the dark-colored sedan moved forward around the Harbor Square Mall parking lot, her trunk was popped open, and she was prepared to show her identification card. Peace, a member of the UNITE HERE Local 54 casino union, has not worked for more than five weeks after the casinos were shut down to limit the spread of the coronavirus. She, along with many others from her union, was in line to receive a food donation box from the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.
"Not working means I have to worry about money a little bit. I wonder if we are going to go back to work at the casinos. It is sad that we need this. These are people with jobs. I hope there is a treatment for this soon."
Peace and others were in line to receive 14-day supply boxes of food with fresh produce. The food distribution was specifically for Local 54, the casino hospitality union members, to have 40 meals for themselves and their families. The demand was so large that, at times, a line almost two miles long wrapped around the Egg Harbor Township mall.
James and Viviana Gallagher are also casino workers who were in line to pick up food. The two currently are on unemployment but are looking forward to things returning to normal.
"We have to have faith with this," said James. "Hopefully, this will come to an end, and people will protect themselves, and we will pray for the people who have gotten sick and who have died. We will just do our best. That is the best we can do."
"We are making the best out of this," Viviana added. "We are trying to be positive and spend time with the family."
Local 54 President Bob McDevitt said the union has been helping the members with the unemployment process. McDevitt hopes the casinos will be able to open by mid-May to alleviate the situation for the union members, some of whom have not received any source of income for a long time.
"From the top of the state to the bottom of the state, the hospitality industry is huge, and the workers are all being affected by this," McDevitt said. "They exhausted their unemployment because they took partial unemployment over the slower wintertime months, and they qualify for nothing. They are not getting the $600 yet because the state is still processing that, so there are many people who have not gotten a paycheck in almost six weeks."
Kimberly Arroyo has worked at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey for eight years. Arroyo said the demand for food in the area has increased drastically. She, along with dozens of Food Bank workers, was helping pass out boxes, unload a couple of tractor-trailers worth of food, and help move the traffic through the mall parking lot with the assistance of the Egg Harbor Township Police Department.
"Just in our on-site panty location, the demand has tripled," Arroyo said. "We service between 700 and 800 families a month. That has tripled since the coronavirus started. Even after people go back to work, people are going to have to catch up on bills, so the food need is still going to be there."
Arroyo added the families were appreciative of the distribution, even with the large turnout.
"The families are very appreciative of what we have been giving. We did not anticipate this many people coming out because we want to help as many people as we can. The casino industry supports many of our South Jersey residents, and they and non-casino residents went dark on the same day. We are going to offer any assistance that we can."
In addition to Wednesday's distribution, the Food Bank also has mobile pantries as well as the on-site pantry at 6735 Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township. More information on how to donate to the Food Bank can be found at cfbnj.org. Anyone also needing food is also in need of food can visit cfbnj.org/findfood to locate a FoodBank partner near them.