ATLANTIC CITY — Cookie Till didn't think she was going to be dancing Saturday night.

She went into the first-ever Dancing Under the A.C. Stars fundraiser thinking she was only going to serve on the planning committee.

"And here we are," Till said as she stood on stage in the Brighton Ballroom at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in a blue sequined dress holding a giant trophy for being the night's top fundraiser/dancer, raising $110,391 for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

“I’m not a dancer,” Till, of Margate, said earlier in the evening as she waited for her turn to take the floor with professional dance partner Joey G. “I’m a fundraiser.”

Local notables were paired with local professional dancers to make up 12 teams competing to raise money to benefit the food bank's Southern Branch in an effort to make sure no one in the community goes hungry.

“Atlantic City is considered a food desert,” said contestant Brian K. Jackson, chief operating officer of Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus. “The thought of anyone going to bed hungry — we need to change that, and we can.”

The story behind tonight's ‘Dancing Under the Atlantic City Stars’

The grand fundraising total was not announced Saturday night, but before the doors opened, food bank President and CEO Carlos M. Rodriquez said they had raised well over $100,000, enough for 300,000 meals. Till and her partner alone raised $110,391.

About 67,000 residents of Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties are not sure where their next meal is coming from, and one-third of those are children, Rodriquez said, adding Atlantic County has the highest rate of child food insecurity in the state.

“I think tonight is a reflection of who our community is, and the support given to the Community FoodBank tonight speaks volumes of how amazing our community truly is,” said Renate Taylor, event committee and development officer for the food bank. “This is the renaissance of Atlantic City, and everybody is enjoying it and remembering to give back to their community, and that is incredible.”

Each “star” committed to raising $15,000 for the food bank, and tables and program ads were sold to add to the total. Although tickets for the event sold out, voting was available online for $10 per vote, providing $80 worth of food to families in need.

Laura Vadell, of Egg Harbor Township, wife of retired Atlantic City police Officer Josh Vadell, said she volunteered to participate in the competition.

“We’ve all been through hard times,” she said, adding food insecurity is something she’s known. “If I can do anything to help the community who helped us, I’ll do it.”

Her partner, Al Henry, a professional ballroom dancer from Absecon, said his parents used the food bank when he was a child.

“I could never be able to pay it all back enough,” he said.

Winners of the competition were divided into three categories: Top Fundraisers, the dancers with the most votes and money raised; Judges’ Score, based on the technical scoring of the panel of judges; and People’s Choice, the couple that gets the most votes on the night of the event.

Local ‘celebs’ dance for charity

Saturday's People's Choice winner was tech and real estate investor Michael Azeez, with partner Janet Chapman, and the Judge's Choice winner was Inspira Chief Development Officer Jessica Kowal, with partner Can Muhammed Karagoz.

Joan Rivers impersonator Gary Dee, actor/model Gordon Winarick, former Miss America Suzette Charles, Philadelphia sports personality and Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Howard Eskin and former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver and sports broadcaster Mike Quick judged the competition.

The event was sponsored by the Hard Rock and Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and presented by the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, The Press of Atlantic City and Atlantic City Weekly.

Contact: 609-272-7241 Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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