Chips are down in AC
Captain Frank Picciotto, a 15-year Salvation Army officer, says he’s never seen anything like what COVID-19 is doing to Atlantic City, N.J.
Atlantic County, N.J., which includes Atlantic City, has drawn national news coverage for having the largest job loss in the country due to the coronavirus. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the county lost more than 33,000 jobs or more than a third of its workforce, from June 2019 to June 2020.
“We’ve never seen anything like this—and this is our third appointment,” Picciotto said. He and Captain Shana Picciotto previously served in Patterson, N.J., and Utica, N.Y., and has been in Atlantic City for five years.
COVID-19 restrictions have decimated the hospitality and casino industry that drove the local economy. In 2019, the poverty rate in Atlantic City was 37.1 percent before COVID–19, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“A lot of people are suffering with job losses here,” Captain Frank said. “The casinos are only operating at 25 percent. This is the off-season. They usually do better during the warm weather. It’s caused a lot of heartache for the people in this community.
“There are a lot of immigrants here in this area; people coming from overseas from other countries. They’re usually going through a harder situation.”
Meeting practical needs
The Atlantic City Corps, located just a block from the boardwalk in this famous city, has been an oasis as desperate people wander, looking for help. Since last March, the Salvation Army’s soup kitchen and food pantry has served close to 300,000 meals. The corps has also provided sanitary supplies, coats, socks, clothing, and more.
“We try to help the community in any way we can,” Captain Frank said. “There are a lot of people in need.
“We have partners we work with here in the city in helping people with addiction, rehab, and detox. We try to help people get off the street.”
The corps has received some FEMA money to help with rent and utility assistance, but funds are limited, Captain Frank said.
“That has helped alleviate some of the suffering,” he said. “It’s not a lot of money, but whatever we have, we’re helping the community.”
The corps has also been blessed with help from the Food Bank of South Jersey, the city’s many casinos, Shop Rite supermarkets, and various grants.
“We can’t do it by ourselves,” Captain Frank said. “We’ve got to work together as a community. I see a strong sense of working together and helping those who are homeless, those with addictions, and making sure families stay together.”
Hope for the future
Pastor Frank said COVID has provided more of an opportunity to evangelize and witness. An advisory board member who used to work for the Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino helped the corps get thousands of Gideon Bibles for distribution.
The corps also gives away Salvation Army magazines and copies of The Daily Bread devotional booklet at events such as a Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas lunch, and an Angel Tree toy distribution.
“We’ve had opportunities to give things out to people and to pray with people in the community and share the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Pastor Frank said. “That’s our main mission. We do it out of love for the people and we try to work together to alleviate the struggle of men, women, and children.”
The corps, which has returned to in-person holiness meetings on Sunday morning, will soon open the building to help children who can’t go to school because of COVID. Many of the immigrant children struggle with the language barrier in school.
“We’re going to try to do the best we can and help them,” he said. “I just believe the kids are innocent. They’re going through a difficult time. Most kids are indoors all day. They’re not even going out or socializing. We want to be able to brighten their days and bless them.”
While things look bleak, Captain Frank doesn’t see the temporal, but a God who is still in charge.
“God always provides, so we’ve been blessed,” he said. “I don’t know when it’s going to end, but we’re blessed to be here in Atlantic City. We love being here and just having the interaction with the people. They come from all over the world. It’s like a little melting pot here in Atlantic City. We’re blessed to help our neighbors as much as possible.”
by Robert Mitchell