ATLANTIC CITY — In a city where thousands of residents already lack access to healthy food, the mass closing of businesses and schools due to concerns about COVID-19 left many wondering where their next meal would come from.

When Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that the city’s nine casinos would be shutting down indefinitely, the gambling parlors realized they had tons of food, literally, that could go to waste. Less than 12 hours after they closed their doors to gamblers, the casinos were donating pallets of fresh and packaged food to the region’s food banks, community centers and social service agencies.

All nine of the city’s casinos — Bally’s Atlantic City, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Caesars Atlantic City, Golden Nugget Atlantic City, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Ocean Casino Resort, Resorts Casino Hotel and Tropicana Atlantic City — have been making deliveries or arranging pickups since Tuesday morning.

Organizations such as the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Southern Branch, Turning Point Day Center for the Homeless, the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City have received food donations from the casinos, allowing each of them to serve those in need.

“It’s been a blessing,” said Torrie Garvin, chief operating officer of the Boys and Girls Club, on Wednesday afternoon as he handed out bagged lunches to familiar faces and strangers alike.

The Boys and Girls Club set up tables outside the Mayor James L. Usry Child Day Care Center on Drexel Avenue to pass out the nearly 1,500 prepacked meals from Borgata.

“Not only is the support needed now, but even more support is going to be needed because of the economic impact of our parents not working and our kids not in school afterwards,” said Stephanie Koch, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City.

Mayor Marty Small Sr., who used to work for the Boys and Girls Club and attended the center as a youth, said the city was grateful to the casinos for stepping up.

“This is who Atlantic City is,” Small said. “We’re a supportive community, we’re a resilient community. We come together in a time of crisis.”

Terry Feaster, 56, has diabetes and typically goes to AtlantiCare to get fresh fruit and vegetables to supplement his $115 per month in food assistance. He was among those who came out Thursday to the Boys and Girls Club after hearing they were distributing meals.

“Stuff like this, there’s going to be a lot of this, because there’s a lot of people who are going to need help,” Feaster said.

At the food bank in Egg Harbor Township, the nine casinos have donated more than 125,000 pounds of dairy and produce alone, said Christy Fernandez, development associate for the organization.

“Despite the circumstances, we are so incredibly appreciative of any support that we receive from our casinos,” she said. “Through and through, all year round, they’re big supporters of our mission and are constantly donating food or monetarily.”

As casinos across the country close because of COVID-19, they, too, are donating food to local organizations. From California to Rhode Island, gaming companies are helping fill pantries just as thousands of people are losing their income and schoolchildren are going without a daily meal.

Some of the food that was not suitable for human consumption — meaning it was past its expiration date but still suitable for certain animals — was donated to Funny Farm Animal Rescue in Mays Landing by the chefs at Martorano’s at Harrah’s.

Contact: 609-272-7222

ddanzis@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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