The participants were asked to take photographs of their daily lives to tell their stories of how casino closures have impacted them, their families and the community. This exhibit is part of an ongoing program run by the NJ Anti-Hunger Coalition, and funded by the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, which aims to elevate the discussion on the many issues surrounding hunger across the state of NJ.
Mimi Box, Executive Director of the JBJ Soul Foundation, said of their involvement with this program that “the ‘face of hunger’ has changed and the advocacy and awareness of what hunger in our communities looks like has to change also”.
The NJ Anti-Hunger Coalition is planning similar events around the state including one in the fall focusing on those still feeling the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Story featured on Press of Atlantic City.com:
Art exhibit highlights ripples of casino closings in daily life
ATLANTIC CITY — The images in “NJ Soul of Hunger: The Atlantic City Story” at the Noyes Arts Garage here are simple, but they convey the many-layered effect of casino closings on area families.
Gary Howard, of Egg Harbor Township, shot a page in a dining guide to show a part of his life that ended with his 27-year job when the Showboat Atlantic City Casino closed.
“I used to go out to eat once a week. That’s gone now,” said Howard, who had opened Showboat and worked in warehouse and receiving almost three decades. “There’s a trickle-down effect to everybody. I’m not putting money back into the local economy anymore.”
He also shot himself cutting his own hair, showing another way his cutbacks have a ripple effect.
Rachel Swain, of Atlantic City, photographed an old pair of black slip-on shoes that she wears all the time now.
She lost her job in environmental services at the Showboat when it closed last September, and was unemployed for months after working there 26 years. Finally in May, she found a new job at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, which pays considerably less than her former job.
Their photos are part of a project sponsored by the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition and funded by a grant from the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.
The exhibit opened Friday with a news conference featuring four of eight local photographers, all recruited to participate by one of the social service agencies helping them get through hard times after the closing of four casinos and the layoffs of 8,000 casino workers.
“We had an 11 percent increase in the number of pounds of food we distributed this last year,” said Evelyn Benton, Executive Director of the FoodBank of New Jersey-Southern Branch in Egg Harbor Township.
Benton said Galloway Township’s mobile food pantry has experienced the biggest increase in food distributed, going up 79 percent since the casino closings.
“These are not numbers,” said Benton. “These are people and their families.”
“Whether they are individuals or families, we need everyone at the table to help them,” said Jeanetta Warren, project coordinator of Catholic Charities’ Atlantic City Crisis Committee. “We will continue to make noise about it so people don’t forget.”
Both Robert Worrell of Absecon and Shakir Abdussalaam, of Atlantic City, took photos of their wives and young children, who motivated them to keep looking for work after they either lost a casino job or had work hours cut back drastically.
Worrell’s hours as a cook at Harrah’s were so unreliable, he took a $6 per-hour pay cut and became a security guard to be guaranteed 40 hours a week and a steady paycheck.
His wife lost her casino job, and they have a young son, so must also depend on help from Medicaid and the SNAP nutritional assistance program, he said.
Abdussalaam started working at Borgata in 2007, but left for Revel, thinking it was a good move.
“Now that closed, and me and my wife just brought a child into this debacle of casino closings,” he said.
Abdussalaam said he recently found a part-time job, but more should be done to help former casino workers find good-paying jobs.
“We worked hard and sent millions to Trenton every day,” he said. “We deserve better.”
Howard said he has been job hunting for almost a year now, and at age 61 often doesn’t even get a response to the resumes he sends.
He lost his home in the township and moved in with girlfriend Kathleen Kautz, a former daycare worker who is on disability for health issues, she said.
Swain went back to school to be a certified nurses assistant, but after graduating and sending out 16 applications got no offers.
So she called a vice president at AtlantiCare, told him her story, and got a job offer in housekeeping soon after, she said.
She was hired in May, but life is still a struggle. She is making $10.91 an hour, she said, compared to $14.42 an hour at her casino job, she said.
NJAHC Director Adele LaTourette said her organization is doing similar events around the state, including one in Toms River focusing on families recovering from Hurricane Sandy. See njahc.org.