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Salvation Army running low on food as demand doubles

ATLANTIC CITY — Since the casinos temporary shut down in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many nonprofits throughout the city have been feeding those newly out of a job on top of continuing with the work that they regularly do.

And while many have donated to those organizations to help feed the hungry, the Salvation Army is operating at capacity and struggling to meet the growing needs of the community.

From March 17 to May 12, The Salvation Army in the city had given out 170,018 meals through its soup kitchen and food pantry, a 288% increase from the same period last year, said Frank Picciotto, commanding officer for the Salvation Army in Atlantic City.

“We’re feeding a lot of people,” Picciotto said. “Right now the storage room is empty. Ever since the COVID-19 epidemic, as soon as everything comes in, it goes out.”

On the food pantry side, a family of four people or fewer gets one box of food items. A family of five or more gets two boxes. The boxes are stocked with canned goods, rice, pasta, fruits and vegetables and meat, which the Salvation Army has been running short of.

The food pantry operates in the morning and afternoon and the soup kitchen offers lunch, a snack and a beverage beginning at noon.

The soup kitchen has been receiving sandwiches from local churches, as well as donated food items from some of the casinos. And while the donations have helped, the organization is still struggling.

The organization also receives a shipment of nine pallets of food, from the Community Food Bank of New Jersey once a month.

That shipment typically lasts 30 days, in the current climate, it has only been lasting two weeks.

Recently, the storage room, lined with baker’s racks, had nothing on them.

The commercial refrigerator was completely empty.

Before the epidemic, they were lined with canned foods, nonperishable items and vegetables, Picciotto said. The refrigerator would usually have milk and eggs. Another storage room had the bare minimum with a few canned items.

“There are times during the month that we have to purchase stuff, like breakfast items,” he said. “We’re in need of financial help, just to keep us running.”

Before the outbreak, the organization was feeding about 40 families a day through the food pantry. It’s now feeding about 60 families daily.

And it’s hard to keep up. The Salvation Army is in desperate need of milk, eggs, nonperishable foods, breakfast items, lunch meats, peanut butter, utensils and disposable food containers.

To help with storage, an anonymous donor has donated a commercial freezer and refrigerator. The freezer came Thursday.

Picciotto would hate to see it sit empty.

“My heart breaks when we’re really low (on items),” he said. “Right before we got a shipment, we only had fruit to give out. Or we had chicken strips, and that’s about it.”

The organization’s after-school program has also stopped, which worries Kerrece McClain, the program supervisor.

“We reach out to see how they’re doing, and remind them that we have services here and to see if they need anything,” she said.

The after-school program, which specifically works with kids from Texas Avenue and Sovereign Avenue schools, consisted of homework help, activities, a meal and local field trips.

Since the stay-at-home order, the program has stopped, but the need is still there. She said teachers have reached out to her and asked for food and snack items for their students as they stay home.

“The schools offer meals for the kids, but it’s only breakfast and lunch,” she said. “But the thing is, when the kids go home with their meal, they have siblings, so they’re giving them their snacks.”

Since the outbreak, she has seen some of the kids in the program come with their parents to get lunch from the soup kitchen. But the hardest part is not knowing how the kids are doing.

Elizabeth Vega-Relyea, a child care aide for The Salvation Army, said even though the organization has been helping a lot of people in need, the food pantry runs out quicker than expected.

Since the outbreak, she’s seen more out-of-work casino employees picking up food for their children who are home.

“A lot of the parents are very appreciative,” she said. “Just last week I had a lady here and she has six kids and her husband left her. We gave her two boxes of food and before she walked out she started crying, thanking us.”

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Philly developer Bart Blatstein now controls 3 full blocks of Atlantic City

Developer Bart Blatstein has acquired the final parcel in an assemblage of Atlantic City properties stretching three blocks inland from his Showboat hotel on the Boardwalk.

Blatstein paid $600,000 in February for the parcel at 805 Atlantic Ave., the only property he didn’t already own within the three-block footprint that also includes a parking lot and the beachside tract with the former casino itself, according to records filed with the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office.

The completion of the assemblage could be a sign that Blatstein is scaling up his redevelopment plans at and around the Showboat, said Robert Ambrose, a South Jersey-based gaming consultant.

The developer previously said he planned to build a casino tower beside the Showboat on a thin strip of land facing the Boardwalk at 160 S. New Jersey Ave. That was intended to circumvent a deed restriction that bars gambling within the existing Showboat tower.

Now, Ambrose said, “I could only speculate that bigger things are on the horizon.”

Blatstein did not respond to a message seeking comment about his plans.

The newly acquired parcel is on a block bounded by Delaware and Maryland avenues, between Atlantic and Arctic avenues. When Blatstein bought the Showboat in 2016, the two-tiered parking structure that dominates that block was included in the transaction.

But three other parcels — 805 Atlantic among them — were separately owned.

The other two were a commercial building with a stone facade and castle-like turrets at 10 N. Delaware Ave., which he bought in December 2017 for $125,000, and a dirt lot at 808 Arctic, which Blatstein bought for $20,000 in January 2019, records show.

The 805 Atlantic acquisition occurred shortly after Blatstein said in an interview with The Associated Press that he had sold his pier-top Playground shopping mall at Arkansas Avenue to an affiliate of Caesars Entertainment Corp. of Las Vegas for an undisclosed sum.

Documents recorded with the clerk’s office show that his $33.8 million mortgage against the pier property with Toronto-based Romspen Mortgage LP was paid off or otherwise satisfied in January, although no record of the sale itself has been filed.

Caesars, which had confirmed the transaction to the AP, did not discuss the deal in its quarterly earnings disclosures this past week.

A Caesars spokesperson did not respond to a message seeking information about the transaction.

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COVID-19 shutdown puts strain on the South Jersey craft brewery business

Tuckahoe Brewing Company was only closed for one week for sales since Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statewide stay-at-home order March 21.

But the Egg Harbor Township-based business has still been negatively impacted by the battle to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rob Callaghan, Tuckahoe Brewing’s sales manager, estimates that business revenue has decreased by about 75% since the company’s tasting room has been closed to the public. They are only able to do deliveries and curbside pickup.

Statewide, craft breweries’ chances to make money are being squeezed by the pandemic. The ability to sell their product to restaurants and bars and on their own premises has been greatly reduced because customers are not allowed inside. The longer the current situation exists, the greater the chance that some craft breweries may close permanently.

“It’s impacting everybody some,” said Callaghan, who added he feels like the Tom Hanks character in the 2000 film “Cast Away,” where a man is stranded on a deserted island. “I feel trapped some days.”

The Brewers Association, the trade association representing small and independent American craft brewers, released results of a survey last month that said the average drop of onsite and draft sales was 65% and 91% respectively.

A majority of brewers, who answered the survey, said they can only last a few months based on current costs, revenues and the current level of state and federal aid if the social distance measures stay where they are now.

Mike Kivowitz, president and founder of the online resource New Jersey Craft Beer, said some craft breweries may not survive if they can’t get certain supplies needed to sell beer to go.

But some craft breweries have taken advantage of having closed tasting rooms to improve, Kivowitz said.

“Some have been cleaning house and reorganizing and repairing and making new recipes. Some opened during this time for the first time,” Kivowitz said. “From what I see happening around, most breweries are adapting and have it figured out for now.”

Most of Tuckahoe Brewing’s business is geared toward distributing their beer to bars and restaurants, which are closed.

Even before the pandemic, it was increasingly tough to make it in the craft beer business as beers made in New Jersey faced more competition for sales from out-of-state craft beers, Callaghan said.

Three 3’s Brewing Company in Hammonton has been directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing state of emergency, said owner/brewer Michael Geller.

“Our draft distribution sales across from New Jersey and Pennsylvania have ground to a 100% halt. All distributor orders have been canceled indefinitely for draft beer, which is a significant portion of our business,” Geller said.

For Paul Simmons, owner of Glasstown Brewing Company in Millville, nothing has been good or beneficial about the shutdown even though he was fortunate to have a beer canner and to have invested in a large brew house in December. They are selling to liquor stores. Walk-up customers can buy beer from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

“We are still hopeful of having a decent year,” Simmons said.

Simmons is concerned about what the rules will be for bars, restaurants and even his own tasting room when customers are allowed back inside for service. Based on other states, bars and restaurants are operating at 25% capacity because of social distancing, which he sees as problematic.

“After two weeks, I can see either businesses being lax, or customers rejecting it. It will very difficult to maintain it,” Simmons said.

The current environment is the most challenging that Cape May Brewing Company CEO Ryan Krill has operated in for the nine years his business has existed.

Krill represented breweries and distilleries on the Cape May County-Wide Recovery Initiative that sent recommendations to the governor. He is advocating for the flexibility of 65% and 75% capacity for indoor service and outdoor service respectively or tables being 6 feet apart, whichever allows for more social distancing, at restaurants, bars and breweries.

“People will not be bellying up to the bar elbow to elbow,” said Krill, who sold 24,000 barrels of beer last year and was looking to increase to 31,000 barrels this year. “We could survive in the current state. It would be painful.”

Resorts Casino Hotel's annual Craft Beerfest

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Municipal officials starting to deal with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Last month, the seven members of the Galloway Township Council felt pretty good about themselves.

They approved unanimously a $28.3 million municipal budget that lowered taxes by 2/10th of a cent while making necessary investments in public safety, including hiring two more police officers for the municipality that covers the largest geographic area in the state, 115.2 square miles.

After an additional month of anticipating the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the township decided to put on hold the hiring of any additional police officers.

Local governments throughout the state are facing both additional expenses, such as buying more personal protective equipment, and decreased revenues due to the pandemic without knowing how much or when financial relief will come from the federal government.

Gov. Phil Murphy has said the state is out of money, so municipalities are taking matters into their own hands by putting a freeze on new hires, spending less and establishing trust funds to deal with COVID costs.

Mayor Jim Gorman participated in a news conference call this month with seven other mayors from the state to back U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s $500 billion bipartisan state, local aid COVID-19 bill.

A formal introduction of the bipartisan legislation will be made in the U.S. Senate on Monday.

Gorman talked about the one-two punch facing Galloway Township as its economy and its residents have been greatly impacted by both the closure of Atlantic City’s casinos and other businesses, including Stockton University.

Galloway Township was hit hard during the 2008 recession.

Gorman said this public health and economic crisis could again devastate his community, unless the federal government steps in with aid.

“In 2008, we led the country in foreclosures. We furloughed employees one day a week. We laid off police officers. We stopped investing in infrastructure and new public safety vehicles,” Gorman said. “I don’t want to relive 2008.”

Other municipalities are also trying to gauge what impact the pandemic fight will have on them.

Hammonton has fewer casino workers inside its borders than Galloway, and only houses Stockton’s Kramer Hall as opposed to the main Stockton campus, but Hammonton Business Administrator Frank Zuber is already anticipating COVID-19 costs will have a greater budget impact next year compared to this year.

Zuber expects Hammonton will be reimbursed by FEMA for such costs as masks for police and cleaning supplies, but he does not have a total expense for these items yet.

“We are very diligent every year with a budget,” said Zuber, who added the 2020 municipal budget will be introduced on May 18 and adopted on June 22. “There are plans to hire employees, but it might have to wait.”

The Egg Harbor Township Committee adopted its 2020 municipal budget of $43.4 million on April 23.

All department heads have already been told that 10% of recently approved budgets have been frozen for the rest of this year.

The 10% freeze in spending will contribute toward saving the municipality $600,000, Township Administrator Peter J. Miller said.

Capital project budgets have been reduced from $5 million to $1.6 million, and the roadwork budget has shrunk from $1.2 million to $600,000, Miller said.

“We are anticipating no money from the state or federal government,” Miller said. “I don’t want to be cut short.”

Lower Township may be more unique than other South Jersey communities, said James Ridgway, the township manager.

If the tourist season this summer isn’t like previous years because of either COVID-19 restrictions or fears, Lower Township is less dependent on anticipated revenue from parking meters or beach tags than other shore towns that need that money drastically, Ridgway said.

“We feel we are in good shape until fall,” he said. “The plan for this year is working as planned. There could be changes going forward.”

On March 24 — three days after N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statewide stay-at-home order — the Stafford Township Council and Mayor Gregory E. Myhre established a $200,000 recovery trust fund, said Matthew von der Hayden, the township administrator.

Von der Hayden said he expects the municipality to be reimbursed for COVID-19-related expenses, such as overtime, cleaning supplies, personal protection equipment and masks through the FEMA public assistance program.

Stafford Township also will explore reimbursement with Ocean County through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, von der Hayden said.

“We crafted a budget in a fiscally responsible manner,” said Myhre, who added the 2020 municipal budget was passed a little over two weeks ago in April.