020519_nws_sisterjeans (3)

An Atlantic City official posts a notice to vacate on the doors of Victory First Presbyterian Church, which houses Sister Jean's Kitchen, in February. The church at Pacific and Pennsylvania avenues in the city's Tourism District was deemed unsafe by officials.

ATLANTIC CITY — The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority voted Tuesday to reimburse the nonprofit Friends of Jean Webster Inc. up to $300,000 for money it spent on a church later deemed unsuitable for its free meal program.

The group will retain title to the property, and the CRDA will hold a lien on it, said Board Chairman Robert Mulcahy. If and when the group sells it, the CRDA will recoup some or all of its funds.

For many years, the nonprofit ran Sister Jean’s Kitchen, a free hot-meal program, out of Victory First Presbyterian Church, next to the CRDA property at Pennsylvania and Pacific avenues.

But the kitchen has not operated since it was evicted in February, after the city deemed the building unsafe.

The group found out the previous year that a plan to renovate St. Monica’s Church at 108 N. Pennsylvania Ave. — which it bought for $246,000 in 2017 — would be too expensive for the CRDA to fund.

Sister Jean’s had been serving about 300 meals a day when it closed.

“This is one of those tough issues we have had here,” Mulcahy said.

He said the reimbursement will include the purchase price plus any interest and the cost of an environmental investigation.

“This was a good-faith effort, part of the whole John Brooks movement,” said Mulcahy of the agreement to move the John Brooks Recovery Center, a drug rehab program, and Sister Jean’s out of the Tourism District. “There was agreement among all of us if it didn’t work out we would reimburse them.”

The Friends’ executive director, the Rev. John Scotland, declined to say anything to the board when given the chance before the vote.

He left soon after the vote, declining comment other than to say that the Friends group was still meeting regularly and had not decided whether it will try to reopen elsewhere.

The CRDA had agreed to fund the $1 million renovation of St. Monica’s until a contractor determined the project would cost much more. Then the funding lapsed.

Sister Jean’s Kitchen was started by the late city resident Jean Webster decades ago, when she served hot meals out of her home.

The Atlantic City Rescue Mission and Salvation Army have stepped up to provide meals in its place.

The Victory church building was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and its condition continued to deteriorate, causing the city to deem it unsafe, according to Dale Finch, director of the city’s Department of Licensing and Inspection.

Contact: 609-272-7219 mpost@pressofac.com Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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