April 3, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has had immediate, profound effects across communities. In the Greater Mercer region, individuals and families are seeing the uncertainty of the future, heightened fear and anxiety for their health, all compounded by job losses, reduced income, and shortages of basic necessities. During this crisis, more and more people are turning to social service organizations. 

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) continues to operate all programs in full or partial capacity. JFCS is a comprehensive social service, non-profit organization that delivers programs to individuals of all backgrounds, faiths and ages in the Greater Mercer Region. While the agency has closed its physical offices to all clients, visitors, and all but two staff members, the core programs have been adapted to continue in the new environments. 

“Our staff has been incredibly flexible, creative and innovative in how they’ve addressed service delivery in difficult circumstances. Michelle Napell, our Executive Director, has demonstrated strong and decisive leadership in the face of unprecedented challenges,” said Arlene Pedovitch, JFCS Board President. 

For example, counseling services transitioned to tele-therapy by phone. All current clients were moved to phone sessions and the agency remains open to taking new clients. 

“We knew that the demand for our core programs – mental health counseling, food pantry and delivery services, and senior support – would increase dramatically during this outbreak,” said Michelle Napell, Executive Director.  

In addition to tele-therapy, JFCS has launched weekly webinars to provide broader emotional and psychological support during the crisis. Topics have included managing anxiety, coping with the emotions of spending the spring holidays apart, and issues relating to teens. 

The counseling department now also offers daily “drop-in” time frames that allow community members to call in for a 30-minute session with a licensed JFCS social worker for personalized support, coping skills and resources. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 10 AM – 12 PM and Tuesdays & Thursdays 5 – 7 PM callers can connect at 609-987-8100 and Dial 0 to speak with available counselor. JFCS weekly webinars and drop-in sessions are supported through a generous emergency grant by Princeton Area Community Foundation. 

JFCS maintains an on-site food pantry, a Mobile Food Pantry, and special services for seniors including Kosher Meals on Wheels and Healthy@Home, a monthly grocery delivery program. All food programs have continued despite the outbreak. 

The team at JFCS has sourced new providers of shelf stable items and frozen prepared meals to keep its shelves stocked for current clients and emergency calls for food. New partnerships have allowed the agency to reach even more vulnerable members of the community by connecting JFCS food supplies to individuals and families identified by other community organizations. JFCS provided emergency bags to Capital Area YMCA to distribute to displaced families residing in local motels and hotels and, most recently, the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry delivered 100 packages of chicken and additional food supplies to Homefront. 

Ahead of Passover, JFCS staff packaged over 40 prepared bags of Kosher for Passover food items to be delivered to isolated seniors throughout Mercer County including members of JFCS senior programs, Kosher Meals on Wheels recipients, and Holocaust survivors. 

The Kosher Café, a program made possible through the support of Mercer County Office on Aging, provides hot meals, prepared by our partner Greenwood House, to low-income seniors four times a week. The agency has continued this service in a “to-go” format with staff packing individual containers and delivering to café attendees curbside at Adath Israel Congregation where the cafés are held. 

The senior services team is providing valuable phone support and check-in calls to all senior program clients. JFCS has enlisted the help of volunteers to make regular calls to all elderly clients across programs. Volunteers report back if a specific need is expressed or the senior shares information of concern. Staff have been able to provide critical interventions such as connecting clients to available home care options, prescription and grocery delivery services and estate planning. 

JFCS has also seen success in transitioning teen programs and support groups to video conferencing. Teen participants of Gesher LeKesher, a peer mentoring and leadership program, and Jewish Community Youth Foundation (JCYF), a philanthropic program, now meet via weekly Zoom calls. The calls give the teens a guided presentation on a topical subject and allows open discussion and connection over the current challenges. Additionally, the Caregiver Support Group has returned to a biweekly schedule via Zoom. Those providing care for a loved one are facing even greater challenges during the coronavirus outbreak and rely on this safe gathering space for understanding, support and skills. 

The agency has received emergency funding to support the continuation of our programs from Bristol-Myers-Squibb, Princeton Area Community Foundation (as noted previously), and a number of private donors.