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Kristian Gonyea  

Pleasantville played Constitution during the battle of the bay at Atlantic City High School . Atlantic City. NJ. January 31, 2020 (Kristian Gonyea/ For Press of Atlantic City)

School food pantries meet parents in need where they are

VINELAND — Last year, Vineland schools saw a need in the community and created a once-a-month food pantry at the Landis Avenue administration building.

“And then we noticed a need at all the individual schools, as well as parents are walking here and they don’t have a way to get to Landis,” said Vineland Schools food service director Purvesh Patel from Sodexo.

On Monday, Patel and representatives from Inspira Health and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey cut the ribbon on a new pantry inside the Sabater Elementary School and Casimer M. Dallago Early Childhood Center, where parents who are dropping off or picking up students will have a chance to collect food for their homes.

The pantry is one of a few in South Jersey where elementary and secondary schools are trying to ease access to items needed in economically depressed areas.

In November, Pinelands Regional Junior High School in Little Egg Harbor Township opened its Legacy Center to help families in the district pick up toiletries and food, wash clothes and access computers where they can pay bills or apply for jobs.

Mother of three Stacy Golden said the center has helped her tremendously.

“They’re spectacular, they’re just so great,” said Golden, of Little Egg Harbor. “I have three teenage boys. Anytime you need their help, they’re available. They’re not like going to the local food pantry.”

She said she has picked up socks and other clothes, toiletries and household items, which has freed up funds so she can pay her bills.

Pinelands employees Allison Laurence, Cathy Schaffer and Dan Grasso developed the Legacy Center because they saw a need in their community, where 11.5% of children live below the federal poverty level.

“It takes a village, it’s true. And that’s what the school is about. We’re about community,” Laurence said. “Especially where we live, it’s such an economically depressed area. We’re here to help.”

In Cumberland County, the median income of families is $42,282, the unemployment rate is 7% and 25% of children live below the federal poverty level. Patel said those data show the need of the community, but having an accessible location like a school helps even more.

“This is more than just putting food in the hands of the community,” Patel said, adding schools are more like community centers and safe spaces for families.

The food pantry in the school is a way to reach families where they are.

One hundred families from the Sabater school were pre-selected for the pantry this month, but more will be able to sign up.

The pantry there is open once a month at the end of each month, and the pantry at Landis Avenue is open once a month at the beginning.

Patel said he hopes other schools take notice of what is happening in Vineland and open up pantries.

GALLERY: Pennsylvania Avenue School held a Thanksgiving Turkey Basket donation event for school families

Trump acquittal now likely Wednesday; Senate nixes witnesses

WASHINGTON — The Senate narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon witnesses for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial late Friday, all but ensuring Trump’s acquittal in just the third such trial to face a president in U.S. history. But senators considered pushing off final voting on his fate to next week.

The vote on allowing new witnesses was defeated 51-49 on a near party-line vote.

Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted along with the Democrats for witnesses, but that was not enough.

Despite the Democrats’ singular focus on hearing new testimony, the Republican majority brushed past those demands to make this the first impeachment trial without witnesses. Even new revelations Friday from former national security adviser John Bolton did not sway GOP senators, who said they’d heard enough.

That means the eventual outcome for Trump will be an acquittal “in name only,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a House prosecutor, during final debate. Some called it a cover-up.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called Friday night’s results “a tragedy on a very large scale.” Protesters’ chants reverberated against the walls of the Capitol.

But Republicans said Trump’s acquittal is justified and inevitable.

“The sooner the better for the country,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidant. “Let’s turn the page.”

The next steps come in the heart of presidential campaign season before a divided nation. Democratic caucus voting begins Monday in Iowa, and Trump gives his State of the Union address the next night. Four Democratic candidates have been chafing in the Senate chamber rather than campaigning.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges he abused power and obstructed Congress like no other president has done as he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and then blocked the congressional probe of his actions.

The Democrats had badly wanted testimony from Bolton, whose forthcoming book links Trump directly to the charges. But Bolton won’t be summoned, and none of this appeared to affect the trial’s expected outcome.

In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton writes that the president asked him during an Oval Office meeting in early May to bolster his effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to a person who read the passage and told The Associated Press. The person, who was not authorized to disclose contents of the book, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

In the meeting, Bolton said the president asked him to call new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and persuade him to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was planning to go to Ukraine to coax the Ukrainians to investigate the president’s political rivals. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelenskiy after the meeting, which included acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

The revelation adds more detail to allegations of when and how Trump first sought to influence Ukraine to aid investigations of his rivals that are central to the abuse of power charge in the first article of impeachment.

The story was first reported Friday by The New York Times.

Trump issued a quick denial.

“I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of NYC, to meet with President Zelenskiy,” Trump said. “That meeting never happened.”

Key Republican senators said even if Trump committed the offenses as charged by the House, they are not impeachable and the partisan proceedings must end.

“I didn’t need any more evidence because I thought it was proved that the president did what he was charged with doing,” retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a late holdout, told reporters Friday at the Capitol. “But that didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she, too, would oppose more testimony in the charged partisan atmosphere, having “come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate.’’ She said, “The Congress has failed.”

Eager for a conclusion, Trump’s allies nevertheless suggested the shift in timing to extend the proceedings into next week, acknowledging the significance of the moment for senators who want to give final speeches.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the offer to Schumer, but it was not yet final.

Under the proposal, the Senate would resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting would be Wednesday.

To bring the trial toward a conclusion, Trump’s attorneys argued the House had already heard from 17 witnesses and presented its 28,578-page report to the Senate. They warned against prolonging it even further after House impeached Trump largely along party lines after less than thee months of formal proceedings making it the quickest, most partisan presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

Some senators pointed to the importance of the moment.

“What do you want your place in history to be?” asked one of the House managers, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a former Army Ranger.

Trump is almost assured of eventual acquittal with the Senate nowhere near the 67 votes needed for conviction and removal.

To hear more witnesses, it would have taken four Republicans to break with the 53-seat majority and join with all Democrats in demanding more testimony. But that effort fell short.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the rare role presiding over the impeachment trial, could break a tie, but that seems unlikely.

Murkowski noted in announcing her decision that she did not want to drag the chief justice into the partisan fray.

Though protesters stood outside the Capitol, few visitors have been watching from the Senate galleries.

Bolton’s forthcoming book contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate the Bidens. Trump denies saying such a thing.

The White House has blocked its officials from testifying in the proceedings and objected that there are “significant amounts of classified information” in Bolton’s manuscript. Bolton resigned last September — Trump says he was fired — and he and his attorney have insisted the book does not contain any classified information.


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman, Deb Riechmann and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

Gateway Playhouse, school districts lose props, sets in Somers Point storage facility fire

SOMERS POINT — The Gateway Playhouse theater and two local school districts lost props, costumes and decorations in the Thursday blaze that severely damaged a storage facility.

The fire broke out during the early morning hours at Sure Storage on Chestnut Street.

A woman who answered the phone at Sure Storage on Friday declined to comment on the fire.

Gateway Playhouse posted about the fire on its Facebook page Thursday, saying the storage facility had housed its materials for many years.

“All of our inventory has been lost today,” the post said. “We will need to figure out a way to rebuild and will undoubtedly need your help. As we work out a plan, please stay tuned and we look forward to your support. Thankfully, no one was hurt today, but we lost the things we have to help us tell our stories. We will start again. We will need your help.”

Somers Point Superintendent Michelle CarneyRay-Yoder said the district also lost theater sets, props and costumes, as well as its eighth grade dance decorations.

“There were a lot of handmade and vintage pieces in our collections. Mr. Pallitto, our director, has curated the collections for 15 or so years,” CarneyRay-Yoder said.

The district is seeking pictures of plays and dances to make an inventory of all that was destroyed and what can be replaced.

“Once we know what we can replace or if more assistance is needed, we will let our community know of help we need in the near future,” the district posted on its Facebook page.

Photos can be emailed to mcarneyray-yoder@sptsd.org.

In addition, Middle Township School District posted to its Facebook account that the high school musical lost all of its sets and costumes at the storage facility, which it has been using for nearly 20 years.

"We are grateful that there were no injuries, but devastated by the loss of a collection curated for over 22 years. It also puts us in the position to have to rebuild our inventory. We can no longer draw upon our massive stock of theatrical items. This will lead to additional expenses," the post from Saturday reads. "Though we will be announcing a future fundraiser, if you have not donated to this year’s 1776 ad book, please consider doing so."

Those interested in donation to the ad book, which funds the program, can contact hoggk@middletwp.k12.nj.us.

Jim Dalfonso, chairman of the Gateway Playhouse, was on the scene of the fire Thursday morning. Thousands of items collected in three units were destroyed, including antiques, props, set pieces and vintage costumes, Dalfonso said.

“The costume collection was curated over 20 years,” said Dalfonso. “I’m glad nobody was hurt.”

Performances of “Hands Up Silent Theatre” by the Trebled Heart Academy on Saturday and “Come Together,” the sold-out annual gala of the Leadership Studio of Atlantic City, on Feb. 29 do not need the theater’s props or costumes, Dalfonso said.

The first production that will be impacted by the fire will be the Full Moon Theater’s staging of the Tony Award-winning musical “In The Heights” from May 8 through 17, Dalfonso said.

“The organization will meet as a group. We will call in the Somers Point schools, who used some of our things. We try to be as community-based as possible,” he said.

As of Friday afternoon, Dalfonso did not know how the fire started.

Staff Writers Claire Lowe and Vincent Jackson contributed to this report.

Molly Bilinski / Staff Writer  

Thursday’s fire at Sure Storage on Chestnut Street in Somers Point burned up property belonging to Gateway Playhouse, including props, costumes and set dressing.

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Atlantic City sportsbooks ready for Super Bowl 54

ATLANTIC CITY — Last year was more like a preseason game for the city’s retail sportsbooks, as several of the casinos were either operating temporary spaces or had yet to kick off operations.

But this year, all eight of Atlantic City’s sportsbooks are ready for prime time when Super Bowl 54 starts Sunday night.

“Atlantic City is excited to welcome all fans to come and enjoy the biggest sporting event of the year and place their bets on the big game,” said Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and senior vice president of Eastern regional operations for Tropicana Atlantic City’s parent company, Eldorado Resorts.

The American Gaming Association released results from a survey that found an estimated 26 million people will place about $6.8 billion in legal wagers on Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida.

According to that same survey, close to 4 million people will place a Super Bowl wager at a brick-and-mortar sportsbook, a 25% increase from last year.

“With 14 operational markets and another seven close behind, Americans have never before had so many opportunities to wager on the Super Bowl in a safe and legal manner, and clearly, they are getting in on the action,” said Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association. “With increased visitation to legal sportsbooks, we are successfully drawing bettors away from the predatory illegal market.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018, more than $17 billion has been legally wagered on sports, with more than $5 billion bet in New Jersey alone.

“With the proliferation of legal sports betting across the U.S., there is no doubt that this will be a record year for legal bets on the Super Bowl,” said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for PlayUSA.com. “An interesting matchup that is nearly a pick ’em will help spur action, too. As a result, records in states such as Nevada and New Jersey, where both online and retail sports betting were legal for last year’s game, are also in jeopardy.”

Tom Gable, director of Race & Sportsbook at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said the biggest difference between this year and last — besides the opening of the nearly $10 million Moneyline Bar & Book — is that gamblers are more interested in proposition, or prop, bets.

Gable said 63% of tickets were on the Chiefs and 76% of moneyline and point-spread bets were on Kansas City. The spread at Borgata was Chiefs -1.5 and the total was 54 points as of Friday afternoon.