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Atlantic City Jeffries Tower residents return home

ATLANTIC CITY — Almost 40 days later, residents of the Charles P. Jeffries Tower Senior Apartments on Monday began moving home after being displaced by a fire at the high-rise during a blizzard.

“It’s been traumatizing,” said resident Shulonda Smith as she moved into her apartment. “I’m so happy to be coming back home. There’s no place like home.”

Through a steady rain Monday morning, more than half of the 300 displaced residents began arriving at the building in cars and vans to unload belongings and settle back into their units for the first time since Jan. 4.

They had been relocated at various hotels throughout the city on the night the high-rise fire caused city firefighters to carry some residents — many of whom are elderly or disabled — out of the 17-story building into ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures.

On Monday, Smith pushed a cart full of her belongings toward the building and was accompanied by her service dog, Angel. She said she most recently stayed at the Flagship Resort and was happy to be returning to her own space.

She was one of several residents who lived on floors two through 10 and had clearance to move back in Monday.

Atlantic City Housing Authority Executive Director Tom Hannon said the “massive effort” welcomed back nearly 170 people so far, and he expects all the residents to be moved back in by the end of the week.

“Right now, we’re very hopeful,” he said. “We can have everyone back by Thursday and Friday of this week.”

Hannon said the Housing Authority got gradual city approvals floor-by-floor, and he expects the last few floors to be cleared by Wednesday for everyone else to move in.

About 210 of the residents initially were placed at hotels including the Flagship, Showboat Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort and the Travelodge Atlantic City on the White Horse Pike, while about 100 others were staying with family and friends.

Residents were told at the time of the fire it would be a few weeks until they got back into the building, which sustained smoke and electrical damage during the blaze. Calvi Electric Co. was working on repairs to restore the power, and the entire fire alarm system had to be replaced and repaired, Hannon said.

The cost to house the displaced residents was about $14,000 a day, according to Housing Authority officials, and the expense fell on the authority.

Hannon said Monday he did not have a total cost of damage to release.

Upon returning home Monday, each resident received $75 in ShopRite gift cards.

Darren Collins, who lives on the 10th floor of Jeffries Tower, drove back to the building Monday with his two dogs after staying at the Travelodge.

Collins said he had a hip replacement in early December and things had been “hectic.”

“I’m hoping all is well once I get into my apartment,” Collins said before moving back in Monday. “I’m praying that all is well.”

Resident Norman Manning was carrying his bags into the building on Monday morning after also staying at the Travelodge.

“I’m glad to be back,” he said.

Salvation Army feeds Cumberland County homeless

BRIDGETON — The comforting smell of a warm breakfast wafted through the window between the kitchen and the cafeteria Friday at the Salvation Army as men and women, bundled in layers of clothing and coats against the frigid morning, made their way into the center.

Donald Hunt, 52, of Bridgeton, a part-time painter, picked up a sandwich and a couple pastries before carrying on with his day.

“It’s a place where you can come and get something and no one judges you,” he said. “They never made me feel obligated or hopeless.”

Hunt explained that even though he has part-time work now, he’s homeless sometimes. He picks up breakfast from the center several times a week.

The Drop-In Breakfast program at the Bridgeton Center for Worship & Service on West Commerce Street welcomes anyone in need to sit and enjoy a hot breakfast sandwich, pastry and coffee every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Or, if they prefer, they’re free to take what they need and leave.

It’s a no-questions-asked program providing the most important meal of the day to the people who need it most.

Cumberland County is hard hit by poverty and homelessness, but Bridgeton’s situation is made even more dire by a lack of access to food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists the city as a food desert, meaning 33 percent of the population, or a minimum of 500 people, have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.

Around the county, on the night of Jan. 24, 2017, a total of 151 people, in 134 households, were experiencing homelessness, according to the 2017 Point-In-Time Count completed by Monarch Housing Associates. And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.4 percent of Cumberland County’s 153,797 residents live in poverty.

Even as growing season ends, farmers keep on giving

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Tom Kaye sat among a dozen other people in plastic chairs on a recent afternoon, waiting for his name to be called so he could fill up a shopping cart with canned foods, gravy and cranberry relish, and pick from the fresh vegetables, fruits and produce piled high on crates.

The Salvation Army is the only organization in the area that hosts a free breakfast program for homeless and low-income families, said Alexandria Hammond, community relations manager. On average, they serve 150 people per week.

Lt. Sergo Lalanne, the commanding officer, said the program “is a great service where we’re meeting a food need of the community.”

Lalanne explained that the majority of their clients are single men and women. Having a warm place to sit and enjoy a hot breakfast, he said, “is very crucial,” especially in the winter.

All the food is donated, as well as the labor to make the program happen.

“We rely on our volunteers to complete our mission of doing the most good in Jesus’ name,” Lalanne said.

Lt. Edelyne Lalanne, Sergo’s wife, picks up about 200 sandwiches a week from Wawa, while a local business, Terrigno’s Bakery, supplies the pastries.

One of the volunteers in the kitchen, Alberta Frazier, 74, of Bridgeton, has been working with the Salvation Army for almost half a decade. She volunteers about five hours a day, five days and week preparing and packaging sandwiches and other food for the breakfast program.

“I like helping people,” she said. “It’s just rewarding. That’s what the good Lord wants us to do — help others. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Vic Damone had a long-running relationship with Atlantic City

Vic Damone, a frequent performer in Atlantic City showrooms whose mellow baritone once earned praise from Frank Sinatra as “the best pipes in the business,” died Sunday in Florida at age 89, his daughter said.

Victoria Damone told the Associated Press in a phone interview Monday her father died at a Miami Beach hospital from complications of a respiratory illness.

Damone’s easy-listening romantic ballads brought him million-selling records and sustained a half-century career in recordings, movies, nightclubs, concerts and television appearances. He retired from performing in 2000 after suffering a stroke.

Damone’s style as a lounge singer remained constant through the years: straightforward, concentrated on melody and lyrics without resorting to vocal gimmicks.

Damone was one of the rare entertainers whose performances in Atlantic City spanned from Steel Pier to the now-defunct 500 Club and into the showrooms of the casino era.

Damone, who owned a summer home on Thurlow Avenue in Margate, appeared many times on “The Grady and Hurst Show,” a groundbreaking Philadelphia television show that was one of the first to feature teens dancing to popular music, said longtime broadcaster Ed Hurst, who also lives in Margate.

When Hurst was doing a radio show on WPEN-AM 950 called the 950 Club, he ran a contest to come up with a nickname for Damone when he released his first hit record, “I Have But One Heart,” in 1947.

“We called him, ‘Mr. Heartthrob,’” said Hurst, who added he thought Damone had a better voice than Sinatra or Tony Bennett, but he didn’t achieve their level of fame.

Damone should have been a superstar, Hurst said. He made a few movies, but he was forgettable in the roles, except when he sang, Hurst said.

Damone was in movies in the 1950s that included “Rich, Young and Pretty,” “The Strip,” “Athena,” “Hit the Deck” and Kismet.”

Damone was competitive with his contemporaries, Hurst said.

“He hated Tony Bennett. He was going to punch him in the mouth. I said to him, ‘For Chrissakes, what the heck is the matter with you,’” Hurst said.

Hurst said his wife introduced Damone to his fifth and final wife, Rena Rowan-Damone, and they stayed during the 1990s at Damone’s home in Palm Beach, Florida.

David Spatz, who covered the casino entertainment scene for The Press of Atlantic City from 1976 through the 1990s, produced and hosted a benefit concert for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society in 1980 at Bally’s Atlantic City with Damone and a full orchestra and string section.

“I remember the night we did that benefit concert like it was yesterday. It was just a nice crowd. Everybody was dressed up,” Spatz said Monday. “Vic was an interesting guy and a tremendous singer. It just came so easy to him.”

Damone and his fourth wife, actress and singer Diahann Carroll, got married Jan. 3, 1987, at Steve Wynn’s Golden Nugget in Atlantic City.

“If I’m not mistaken, it was former (Atlantic City Mayor) Jim Usry who performed the ceremony,” Spatz said.

Spatz was not at the wedding, but he was at their show that night.

“They had performed together before, so there was nothing unusual about that, but they talked about their wedding. ... They had little pieces of cake for everyone in the audience. The room (known as the Opera House) only sat 500 people,” Spatz said.

Stephanie Nielson, the vice president of entertainment for Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort from 1991 to 2000, booked Damone for a private, big casino player event in the Taj’s ballroom.

“That’s the only time I remember booking him. He was a wonderful talent,” Nielson said.

Damone and singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka attended Nielson’s surprise 50th birthday, she said.

Grammy Award-winning record producer Joseph A. Donofrio, of Brigantine, had booked jazz and popular music singer Keely Smith and tenor saxophonist Sam Butera during the 1990s at the Taj Mahal.

“Keely, at one time, I guess had a big crush on Damone,” Donofrio said. “She calls me up and says, ‘I want to go see Vic Damone. I want you to get me a ticket, and I want to sit in the very first row.’”

Donofrio got first-row tickets to Damone’s show at the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Donofrio, his wife, Smith and her daughter attended the concert.

Damone came up off the stage, handed the microphone to Smith, so she could sing a little, and the whole group met him backstage after the concert, Donofrio said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Vic Damone and Diahann Carroll show off their rings after their wedding in Atlantic City on Jan. 3, 1987. Damone died Sunday in Miami Beach from complications of a respiratory illness.

Cape concert promoter charged in $5,000 theft

A Cape May County woman who helped coordinate and promote several concerts — including Tim McGraw in Wildwood and the Fall in Love with Wildwood marketing campaign — has been charged with stealing $5,000.

Amanda Thomas, 25, of Wildwood Crest, was charged Friday with theft by unlawful taking and computer criminal activity after she allegedly withdrew $5,000 from a victim’s bank account without that person’s knowledge, according to a statement Monday by the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.

Thomas, contacted Monday by The Press of Atlantic City, said the charges have no merit.

“It was a mistake and it was a computer glitch that occurred,” Thomas said in a telephone interview. “I truly believe these charges have no truth to them. This will not stop any of the events that we are planning this summer.”

Thomas said she could not get into the particulars of the case but added there was a mistake where $5,000 was taken from the bank account of a vendor who is also a rival promoter. The vendor, located in North Wildwood, called the Prosecutor’s Office instead of calling her, she said.

When she learned of the incident, Thomas said she refunded the $5,000.

If convicted, Thomas could be sentenced to five to 10 years in state prison.

The charges aren’t the first for Thomas.

In 2016, Ocean City police charged her with withdrawing $3,666 from the Betsy Young Memorial Fund and using the money for personal expenses, according to previous reports.

Thomas, formerly of Ocean City, formed the fund herself after high school to honor an Ocean City Intermediate School teacher who had a brain tumor. She pleaded not guilty in 2016 and enrolled in a one-year pretrial intervention program. The charge was later dismissed, Thomas said in a previous interview with The Press.

Thomas’ company, Boardwalk Entertainment, also created the Wildwood Food Truck Festival and worked on the Fall in Love with Wildwood marketing campaign in Cape May County. She also coordinated a 2017 food truck festival in Ventnor.

Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano said Monday he spoke with Thomas and plans to continue to work with her in bringing events to the city.

“I’ve had extensive conversations with her, and she says she did not do anything wrong,” Troiano said. “I think I know her well enough, but I’m only hearing one side of the story.”

The city wants to work with her company to bring six or seven events to Wildwood this year, including food truck events, a dog adoption program on the beach, a wrestling event on the beach and some concerts, Troiano said.