Winter can be tough on Wildwood workers

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Juan Leon, a seasonal worker in Wildwood, poses with his wife, Josephine, and three children: Destiny, 9, Joxander, 6, and Jocelyn, 12.

Juan Leon, a seasonal worker in Wildwood, poses with his wife, Josephine, and three children: Destiny, 9, Joxander, 6, and Jocelyn, 12.

 WILDWOOD- Juan Leon, 42, holds a purple and white New Jersey lottery ticket. He laughs and explains that he plays the birthdays of his three children, boxed, hoping to win it big.

“I had a friend win $200,000 on a scratch-off,” he says, “You never know, right?”

For Leon, who works seasonally at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, this would be a dream come true. He could move his wife, Josephine, and three children: Jocelyn, Destiny, and Joxander, out of the cramped, two bedroom back unit apartment on 26th Avenue and into a home where his kids could each have their own bedroom.

That year, he also wouldn’t have to struggle through the winter in Cape May County.

This past July, the county’s unemployment rate was at 9.4 percent. In November, it had jumped to 14.5, most likely due to an influx of seasonal workers, like Leon, who collect in the offseason.

Over the summer, Leon works 15-hour days at Morey’s Piers as a game supervisor. When he first came to Wildwood six years ago, he balanced that and working in food service at the convention center.

“I didn’t have the kids here then, so I could handle that,” Leon explains. That summer, he rented out a hotel room with his brother-in-law, and saved enough by August to bring his wife and kids to the States from Puerto Rico.

This past season, however, Leon hurt his back when he fell restocking a water gun game, and was forced to cut his hours. Now, he’s been offered a new job for the upcoming summer working with his wife at the Sandy Shores Resort in North Wildwood.

“During the summer, you work, you pay bills,” Leon says. “But the winter is hard. Bills start to pile up, and by the time you get your first unemployment check, you need to pay back what you owe.”

Between the unemployment checks he and his wife receive in the winter, the couple only pulls in about $300 a week, Leon says. He said the family also is on food stamps and Welfare, but the electric bills, rent, car insurance, and the basic child care for his children, still make money tight.

The hardest months for Leon, he says, are the beginning of the offseason in October through December. Now, he says he and his wife will file their tax return as soon as they are able, and they will have a slight cushion until March- when Leon will start work at the resort as a housekeeping supervisor.

“That will be really good, because the manager there said he would make a schedule for me in the offseason too, painting rooms and stuff, so I can work next winter,” Leon says.

This isn’t the first time Leon has searched for a job in the offseason. He’s applied to the Walmart in Rio Grande, the SuperFresh on the island, as well as a slew of other places open to locals in the winter, but never got the job.

Now that he and his family have made a home in Wildwood, it’s difficult to imagine picking up and starting somewhere new, where they may be more opportunities for Leon and his wife, he says.

“The schools here are great,” Leon says, whose children are at Margaret Mace. “It’s quiet on this side of town, and we’ve become attached to the community.”

The community has also lent Leon and his family a hand when things have been especially tough. John Lynch, through his Lunch with Lynch Foundation and Christmas toy drive, gave his kids new coats for this winter, Leon says.

“The community helps out a lot,” he continues, then becomes quiet.

“Maybe once I straighten up the bills with the tax return, and start work in March, I can look to move us into a bigger place,” Leon says.

Christie Rotondo can be emailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story at

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