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Line wraps around block as N.J. First Lady joins nonprofit at Atlantic City food distribution

Posted by Chris Franklin and Lori M. Nichols
in Culture of Care, COVID-19
on Jun 26, 2020 6:26:00 AM
0 Comments

NJ First Lady in Atlantic City Food Distribution_06-26-2020

Kathryn Stalmack, senior vice president and general counsel of LogistiCare, second from right, speaks as New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy, second from left, and Anthony Brower, president of the Atlantic City-based nonprofit Friends In Action, right, look on, Thursday, June 25, 2020. Brower has helped feed his community following the layoffs of thousands of casino workers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Anthony Brower was in his element Thursday. Wearing his yellow t-shirt, blue jacket, and New York Giants-themed face mask, the Friends In Action president walked around his event inside the Bangladesh Association of South Jersey building in Atlantic City. It was similar to other events his group has held, but this time, in addition to their normal volunteers and law enforcement officers helping out, First Lady of New Jersey, Tammy Murphy, was there, too.

“I want to spotlight the great work that Friends in Action is doing and to just thank everybody for coming together in this really difficult time,” Murphy told NJ Advance Media at the event, which saw volunteers packing and doling out donated food to those in need.

“We are putting a spotlight on volunteerism and how it is really important for the whole community to come together and help their neighbors.”

The group was there to organize food -- and lots of it. Whole chickens, onions, celery, cantaloupe, and other fresh fruits. It was all packed and distributed to the residents dealing with food insecurity.

Brower and Friends in Action, a nonprofit he helped found in 2014, have organized a number of community events over the years, ranging from those focusing on senior citizens to throwing Easter Egg hunts for the children.

But, since the coronavirus pandemic struck the state in March, the group has kicked into high gear. As many as seven times a month, the non-profit moves around each of the city’s six wards to distribute food. They began with a couple of locations. As word spread of the undertaking, many businesses and charitable organizations wanted to pitch in and help.

NJ First Lady in Atlantic City Food Distribution_06-26-2020_pic6

New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy, right, helps distribute food to Atlantic City residents at the Friends In Action headquarters in Atlantic City, Thursday, June 25, 2020. Thousands of Atlantic City casino workers were laid off at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing directly to a high unemployment rate and even greater need for food assistance.Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The food gets donated from a variety of businesses, corporations, and entities such as the Community Food Bank of New Jersey

At Thursday’s distribution, people were waiting in a line that wrapped around the block. One person even had saved a place in line as early as 6:30 a.m.

“I think that is what the community sees, that no matter what it was, there is a resource that is here in the city,” Brower said. “Every time, every month, it is here. That is why they are here. The line keeps forming. Even though they may get some food elsewhere, they are always going to be supplied with food.”

NJ First Lady in Atlantic City Food Distribution_06-26-2020_pic7

Volunteers pack bags of food for distribution to Atlantic City residents at the Friends In Action headquarters in Atlantic City, Thursday, June 25, 2020. Thousands of Atlantic City casino workers were laid off at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing directly to a high unemployment rate and even greater need for food assistance. Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Murphy called the event, “Community at its best.”

“The diversity of people here is so typical of New Jersey, and it is just so nice to see that in these days and times, that everybody is rubbing shoulders together and doing the right thing,” she added.

LogistiCare, the nation’s largest non-emergency medical transportation company and the contracted transportation vendor for New Jersey Medicaid participants, partnered with Friends in Action. Having extra transport routes available because of the decreased demand due to COVID-19, LogistiCare reached out to help Brower deliver the food to the residents who needed it the most and not able to stand in the line. With the company’s help, and Millville-based JAC Medi Transport pitching in, a total of 5,000 city residents have been fed.

Kathryn Stalmack, SVP and General Counsel of LogistiCare flew out from Denver to Atlantic City just for the day to see the undertaking.

“I am just moved by everyone here,” Stalmack said. “I am just honored and grateful to be a part of something so impactful to people’s lives during a time of struggling and the crisis that we see throughout our country. It is just beyond moving to see everyone come together to partner together.”

NJ First Lady in Atlantic City Food Distribution_06-26-2020_pic8

Volunteer Nancy Mendez, of Atlantic City, left, packs bags of food for distribution to Atlantic City residents at the Friends In Action headquarters in Atlantic City, Thursday, June 25, 2020. Thousands of Atlantic City casino workers were laid off at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing directly to a high unemployment rate and even greater need for food assistance.Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

NJ First Lady in Atlantic City Food Distribution_06-26-2020_pic9

Volunteers pack bags of food for distribution to Atlantic City residents at the Friends In Action headquarters in Atlantic City, Thursday, June 25, 2020. Thousands of Atlantic City casino workers were laid off at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing directly to a high unemployment rate and even greater need for food assistance.Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Thursday’s packing event is not the first one that has been held. Brower has organized volunteers from all parts of the city and county, including the Atlantic City Police Department and the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Department.

"We have been here packing bags at times and work with the volunteers," said Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler. "They are absolutely amazing. You see people from every walk of life, every political association, and every job you could think of. We all realize that some people need help, and we are all willing to chip in. I am honored to be part of it. I really am."

Joseph Jingoli & Son, Inc. CEO Joe Jingoli Jr. has known Brower for more than 20 years, and the two have worked on projects together. Jingoli said Brower’s efforts were not a surprise to him, considering Brower has helped assist him with his project of helping young, at-risk children learn the trade career skills. Brower is also keen on raising awareness about residents filling out the census.

“Government, industry and organized labor getting together in Atlantic City, taking care of our people, programs like this, Feed AC and others. We believe we are going to come out of the other side of this and be better people, all of us,” said Jingoli.

After most of the line had dissipated and gone back to their families with the newly acquired food, Brower looked around, still seeing what needed to be done and assisting those asking questions. While standing near the back of the open garage door in the building, another man approached Brower.

“You are a saint for doing all of this,” the man said in passing. “You are a good man.”

A humble Brower thanked the man as he went on his way to continue his work.

“I always said that I wanted to make my dad proud,” Brower said. “He has been deceased for seven years. My dad always said that when you do good stuff, you bring honor to our family. He may not be here, but whatever I do to help, it helps bring honor to my family and helps our legacy to help the people.”

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