CAMDEN, NJ - The only time NJ’s First Lady Tammy Murphy took a break Thursday morning in Camden was when she switched from serving hot meals to handing out face masks.
“It’s the first place I’ve been to in multiple weeks, where the sun’s been shining so that tells you something,” Murphy told TAPinto Camden upon arriving at her new station.
Today was one of many stops along a volunteer tour Murphy first embarked upon months ago — which includes Newark, Pennsauken, Red Bank and Trenton.
As she joined Camden-based organization New Beginnings Behavioral Health Services to hand out over 7,000 masks, Murphy said the mantra #CamdenStrong reminded her why the Garden State will overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are more people here than I’ve seen anywhere else in any other place that I’ve been to and I'm just happy to be here,” Murphy said, donning a black T-shirt with“First Lady” etched on the back. “It’s going to be all of us pulling together...If we don’t all pull together as one team and one family then we’re not going to get through this and I know we will.”
Initially forecast as a cloudy day, instead a bright blue sky greeted visitors to the former CVS parking lot across from the Walter Rand Transportation Center on Thursday.
With music blaring, Antonia Rodriguez said she hadn’t intended to arrive so early.
“I came for face masks for my family of six and to see the First Lady,” said Rodriguez, looking at her watch which was only then ticking toward 10 a.m. “I will likely stick around a little longer.”
Volunteers arrived as early as 9 a.m. setting up tables that included T-shirts from the Camden Store, a tent for residents to engage in prayer, informational packets about the census by Workforce & Economic Revitalization for Communities (WERC) and assistance from the Volunteers of America-Deleware Valley, such as expungement resources for ex-offenders.
New Beginnings’ signature RV, which you will often see throughout the city, was also parked behind the food serving station — providing hot showers and the chance to wash clothes.
Pastor Amir Khan, which heads the organization, led the group in prayer prior to the event officially kicking off.
“This is so important, especially down here where there’s so many homeless people and people in need of social services programs, and we were also very glad that Sister Tammy Murphy wanted to be a part of serving the people,” Khan said. “We’re not waiting for them to come to a building, we’re going to them.”
COVID-19 safety protocols were in full effect, with Camden County Police Department officers helping to keep people apart, yellow floor demarcations representing six feet of distance and volunteers hoisting up a cardboard signs that read, “Social Distancing, 6 Feet Apart.”
Queens-native and producer Eric B. of legendary hip-hop duo, Eric B. and Rakim, was also on hand.
“Everyone's been in the house and quarantined and it’s just so great to see people in the Camden community and share in the great energy,” he said. “It’s not even just about the hip hop community stepping up, it’s about us stepping up period. We were on the other side of this fence at one point and this is just us paying it forward.”
Food was provided by Philadelphia eateries Frank’s Steak and Burgers and Four Seasons Diner and Restaurant.
Shefik Gunaydin, President and CEO of Four Seasons, was born in Turkey and said after growing up in Germany he came to the United States in 1990.
“It wasn’t easy at first and I had times when I didn’t have money to have food at home or support my family,” Gunaydin said, as he unloaded his truck for the serving line. “I want to help anyone I can.”
Gunaydin also noted that he kept a varied menu, including chicken, wraps, pasta, and cake for dessert.
Or if you preferred a cheesesteak, close to 200 meant there was plenty to go around.
Camden resident Michael Alston, 61, was one of many that stood in line waiting for a hot plate.
“I’ve been out of work, able to get by with government help but it’s still hard,” he said. “So far I’ve agreed with how the governor has handled reopening things back but people still need to be safe.”
By wrap-up around noon, over 500 meals were served — as New Beginnings volunteers headed to two Camden city coronavirus testing sites and Cooper hospital to hand out another 250 meals.
“We’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get through this stronger," Murphy said at the mic, "and we’re going to be one big happy New Jersey family on the other side of this thing."
Check out 30 photos of the event in the gallery above.