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Support Goes Virtual, JFCS Offers Counseling & Connection in Group Settings

July 10, 2020

Summer 2020 is bringing to light new challenges for all in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Where many programs are reduced in size or cancelled entirely in light of health and safety guidelines, all ages are left with more time filled with uncertainty, isolation, and stress.

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) is expanding mental health services to meet the changing needs of the Mercer County community.

“For the past few months we have been focused on getting information out into the community,” said Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director. “Many people were facing unprecedented mental and emotional health concerns. And for those managing ongoing mental health conditions, the challenges were even greater. We knew at the time, the priority was broadcasting insights and advice from our counselors out to as many individuals as possible.”

Since late March, JFCS has provided free, weekly webinars open to the broader Mercer County community. Topics included dealing with anxiety, stress management skills, and issues tailored toward youth and teens such as coping with the loss of routines and other missed experiences. In addition, the counseling team has blogged about additional, topical mental health concerns.

“As time wore on, it was clear what people were needing most was connection,” continued Napell. “We are now combining our mental health care expertise with the desire for social interaction with the introduction of virtual support groups led by the counselors.”

JFCS already maintained a virtual Caregiver Support Group for older adults caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, or other chronic illness. The virtual model proved successful and was well received by Caregiver Support Group members which paved the way for the clinical department to develop new groups.

“We identified the target populations that would most benefit from support groups based on what our counselors were hearing from their clients and concerns expressed by community members on the Drop-In calls,” said Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC.

The first session of the Social Support Group, a group targeted for older adults and seniors who are feeling isolated, was held on Thursday, July 9. Seven local seniors joined in and had a positive conversation, sharing resources and support.

“One group member expressed dismay at missing weekly card games with friends, immediately another member offered to play cards online with this person,” said Bellardo. “Another member shared that she has ‘traveled the world’ with virtual tours offered online; two others from the session will be joining her on the next ‘trip.’ The connections and comradery were almost instantaneous and demonstrated how much this interaction is needed by seniors.”

The groups will run weekly or biweekly based on the response from the community. All groups are offered free of charge and on drop-in basis; there is no multi-session commitment required by attendees.

  • Youth Mindfulness Group: This group is designed for youth 6 – 10 years old. Participants will be guided through age-appropriate mindfulness discussions and techniques. Next session, Tuesday, July 14 at 5 PM. Register in advance.
  • Pandemic Parenting Group: This group will offer parents a chance to share their struggles, challenges and successes during the pandemic. Next session, Wednesday, July 15 at 3 PM. Register in advance.
  • Social Support Group: This group is targeted for older adults/seniors who are feeling the emotional and psychological impacts of isolation during COVID-19 restrictions. There is no formal structure, participants are invited to speak, listen, and learn. JFCS counselor will help facilitate and manage discussions within group. Every Thursday. Next session Thursday, July 16 at 9:30 AM. Register in advance, one link provided for all upcoming sessions.

For individuals who prefer to connect one on one, JFCS continues to offer Drop-In Hours. Drop-In Hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 10 AM – 12 PM and Tuesdays and Thursday 5 – 7 PM. Callers can reach a counselor at 609-987-8100 and Dial 0 to be connected to an available counselor.

For more information about program offerings, visit the JFCS website or call at 609-987-8100 Mon-Thurs 9 AM – 5 PM and Fridays 9 AM – 4 PM.

Teens find Connection, Support and Service Hours while Distanced

June 22, 2020

On March 23, less than two weeks after the state-wide shutdown due to coronavirus, 20 members of Gesher LeKesher, a high school Jewish peer leadership program facilitated by Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS), joined a Zoom call to come together and process their new reality. The call was initiated by Celeste Albert, Teen Program Coordinator at JFCS.

“It was clear from the early days of shutdown that teens would be deeply impacted by their new reality,” said Celeste Albert. “While our in-person meetings were cancelled and a majority of programming concluded for the school year, I knew that there would be this audience of teens seeking connection and community.”

The Gesher LeKesher Zoom call became a weekly meeting of 20 members of the program. Albert then expanded to Jewish Community Youth Foundation (JCYF), a Jewish youth philanthropy program for teens in grades 8 through 12. Two weekly JCYF calls were set up, one session for 8th and 9th graders and a second for 10th – 12th graders.

Each virtual gathering is a chance for teens to participate in a guided discussion, share about their experiences, and connect with each other. Initial discussions centered on helping the teens adjust to the new routines and responsibilities of remote learning and coping with distancing from peers. As the weeks continued, Albert pivoted the focus to providing engaging opportunities such as virtual service projects and virtual “field trips.”


“The teens definitely look to the weekly meetings as a chance to connect over their shared emotions surrounding the pandemic, but they were also looking for activities to fill their time,” said Albert. “Even as discussions shifted, every session ends with resources I have identified to support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of the participants.”

With the virtual school year ended, Albert recognized that teens would need additional opportunities to fill their time and connect with one another. Summer programming will be open to the broader community for all youth and teens. The JFCS Summer Teen Series focuses on service and personal development.

“Our virtual service days have received the highest engagement of any other program and teens are always asking about the next opportunity,” said Albert.

The “Summer Serve” sessions will offer three opportunities for youth and teens grades 6 – 12. The first will include a discussion of values and highlight a number of service projects from which participants can choose based on their giving values and interests. The second session will be focused on education and help support the annual JFCS School Supply Drive. Lastly, the third session will be held in partnership with Challah for Hunger Princeton.

Additionally, there will be three college and career focused discussions for 11th grade and above. Sessions will include a career exploration workshop, a panel discussion with college students to share their experiences and answer questions, and a resume and interviewing workshop where students will receive tips on building a resume and promoting their skills and experience.

Sessions & Dates

Summer Serve: For Grades 6-12 How Will You Serve? Sunday July 12, 1 PM Discover ways to customize your summer service experience.

Summer Serve: For Grades 6-12 School Supplies Drive Sunday July 26, 1 PM Kick off event for annual school supply drive, learn about needs in our community.

Summer Serve: For Grades 6-12 Challah Bake Sunday Aug 9, 1 PM Create your own challah at home for Challah for Hunger.

College & Career: For Grades 11+ Career Exploration Workshop Tuesday July 7, 7 PM If you don’t know what to do with your major, or are unsure what to study, join us!

College & Career: For Grades 11+ Colleges Perspectives Monday July 20, 7 PM A panel of college students discuss their experiences after high school.

College & Career: For Grades 11+ Promoting Yourself & Your Skill Set Monday Aug 3, 7 PM An interactive workshop to build your resume and develop talking points.

Registration Link for All Sessions.

Mercer Community Network Makes Essentials Accessible to those in need

June 11, 2020

Kimberly-Clark’s Cottonelle, donated 10,000 rolls of toilet paper to United Way of Greater Mercer County (UWGMC). This is part of Cottonelle’s generous commitment to make sure toilet paper is accessible to the community. 

United Way is also making sure that basic needs are being met in the community. Therefore, the organization reached out to Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) to assist with the distribution of toilet paper. JFCS has been able to provide toilet paper to patrons of its brick-and-mortar, Yvette Sarah Clayman Kosher Food Pantry, and through the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry.  

The partnership ensures that individuals and families in East Windsor, Hightstown, West Windsor, Robbinsville, Trenton, Lawrenceville, and the broader Mercer region have access to toilet paper. 

“Despite the challenges that social service agencies have faced in light of the pandemic, the support and partnership of agencies here in Mercer County has provided a network of resources to those most severely impacted by COVID-19,” said Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director. “United Way has been a longtime partner of JFCS and we were grateful that they thought of us to help distribute the toilet paper into the community.”

The Mobile Food Pantry officially hit the road in January 2020, with a planned roll out of one stop per week during the first three months, then increasing to two stops per week through its first year on the road. The coronavirus expedited that timeline and the Mobile Food Pantry has been making 2 – 3 stops per week since mid-March, with demand growing.

The Yvette Sarah Clayman Kosher Food Pantry has steadily seen almost double the usual demand over the past three months.

Collectively, since March 16, over 3,800 individuals have benefitted from the on-site and mobile pantry efforts of JFCS. The on-site pantry serves any within the greater Mercer County area and the Mobile Food Pantry has made stops in Princeton, Lawrenceville, Trenton, Hightstown, East Windsor, West Windsor, Robbinsville, Hamilton, and Ewing. Mobile pantry stops include schools in the East Windsor Regional School District and West Windsor-Plainsboro School District, low-income senior housing, housing developments for individuals with disabilities, and housing developments for low-income families.

JFCS receives Emergency Funding for COVID-19 Hunger Relief

June 9, 2020

JFCS recently received a grant for $2,500 from BAPS Charities through their COVID-19 relief fund. The funding will directly support our services that help those most in need, from seniors to families in need of food to individuals in need of emotional support.

“Our ongoing and new partnerships in the broader Mercer community have enabled JFCS to expand our programs to meet the growing need due to the COVID19 pandemic. We are grateful to have been connected with BAPS Charities, at the recommendation of East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov, a longtime supporter of our agency,” said Michelle Napell, Executive Director. “It is humbling to have new partners such as BAPS Charities recognize the impact we are making in our community and be inspired to provide funding support. The grant funding from BAPS Charities will be directed to our food programs supporting those most severely impacted by COVID19 – from low-income seniors, to adults with disabilities, to Title I Students in the East Windsor Regional School District.”

Community Food Drive Through June 30th

June 3, 2020

Now through June 30th, JFCS invites the community to participate in our Food Drive! Download the flyer to share.

How to donate

  1. Order online from your website of choice and have items delivered to: JFCS 707 Alexander Road, Suite 204, Princeton NJ 08540.
  2. Order through Amazon* and have items delivered to:JFCS 707 Alexander Road, Suite 204, Princeton NJ 08540. 

    *Use and select Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County as your charity of choice and we will receive contributions for your purchases.

  3. Make purchases while you are shopping and drop off items in our donation bin outside of Suite 204 at 707 Alexander Road.

What to donate

JFCS maintains a Kosher on-site and Mobile Food Pantry. Please ensure any donated items have the appropriate Kosher symbols. Please check expiration dates.

  • Tuna in water
  • Shelf stable milk or almond milk
  • Hot and cold healthy cereals
  • Rice
  • Low sugar fruit cups
  • Applesauce
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Pasta
  • Tomato sauce
  • Beans (any type)
  • Gluten free items
  • Healthy snacks

Questions about the food drive? Contact Beth Englezos at or 609-987-8100 Ext 126.

Mental Health in the Time of COVID-19

Community Agency Expands Offerings to Meet Growing Need for Support

May 26, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has shed new light on the importance of mental health resources in the Mercer County community. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults in the United States experience a mental health condition each year. In addition to those who are managing ongoing mental health conditions, the pandemic has provoked challenging emotions for the broader population including heightened anxiety, stress, sadness, and isolation.

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) is a non-profit, comprehensive social service agency that focuses on help, hope and healing in the Greater Mercer region. The agency serves those of all ages, backgrounds and faiths with mental health counseling, senior services, and a range of food distribution programs faiths.

The JFCS counseling department accepts clients with private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and uninsured individuals. The agency also is one of the few options in Mercer County which provides bilingual services in Spanish.

As social distancing guidelines were rolled out in the state of New Jersey, JFCS pivoted to teletherapy for counseling services. Through the use of technology and adapted procedures, all agency services have continued during this shut down.

“The transition was seamless for our existing clients,” says Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC, JFCS Director of Clinical Services. “Our clients were easily able to continue their support from the safety of their homes. Through technology we can be there for our clients through the fear and isolation; we were even able to help a client while they were hospitalized with COVID.”

The counseling department is accepting new clients and completes intakes and initial assessments via phone and video calls. The agency offers consultations with a psychiatrist for clients with Medicare, Medicaid or who are uninsured. The consulting psychiatrist has also continued his services for existing clients by providing medication management by phone.

JFCS expanded mental health support, through the funding support of Princeton Area Community Foundation, to include weekly webinars free to the community and “Drop-In” hours by phone.

Drop-In hours allow callers the opportunity to connect one-on-one with a counselor for a 30-minute session to help address stress, anxiety, fear or other concerns that have become escalated due to the pandemic. Drop-In Hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 10 AM – 12 PM and Tuesdays and Thursday 5 – 7 PM. Callers can reach a counselor at 609-987-8100 and Dial 0 to be connected.

For more information about program offerings, visit the JFCS website or call at 609-987-8100 Mon-Thurs 9 AM – 5 PM and Fridays 9 AM – 4 PM.

JFCS Nourishes Most Vulnerable Populations through COVID-19 Crisis

May 18, 2020

The lives of those in the Mercer County community were upended when social distancing guidelines and shut downs took effect in mid-March. It became quickly apparent that food was an area of serious concern – the availability, accessibility, and affordability of resources was almost immediately an issue facing those already in vulnerable positions.

“The increase in calls for food started not long after the initial state-wide shutdown,” says Michelle Napell, Executive Director of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS). “We stocked up on food for our on-site pantry and upcoming Mobile Food Pantry stops, as well as making sure we had resources prepared to continue our senior nutrition programs.”

JFCS is a non-profit, comprehensive social service agency that focuses on help, hope and healing in the Greater Mercer region. The agency serves those of all ages, backgrounds and faiths with mental health counseling, senior services, and a range of food distribution programs. From the early days of social distancing guidelines, JFCS has adapted all programs to better serve the changing and escalating need in the community. Through the use of technology and adapted procedures, all agency services have continued during this shut down.

Since March 16, JFCS has helped to feed over 2,250 people through its brick-and-mortar, Yvette Sarah Clayman Kosher Food Pantry, and the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry; provided grab-and-go hot lunches to 25-30 seniors four days a week; and continued delivery of 120 meals per week through Kosher Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors.

“Under normal circumstances, our brick-and-mortar and mobile pantries offer a healthy, choice-shopping experiences to our clients. At the brick-and-mortar pantry clients would make private appointments and make selections that match their personal and family preferences and diets. The same was true of the Mobile Food Pantry, where clients could select from a list of options by USDA nutritional category,” said Ms. Napell. “While we cannot offer the same choice experience at this time, we are staying true to the focus on healthy offerings and continue to provide fresh produce, sourced from local farms, and frozen meats, in addition to the pre-packed bags of shelf staples.”

The Mobile Food Pantry officially hit the road in January 2020, with a planned roll out of one stop per week during the first three months, then increasing to two stops per week through its first year on the road. The coronavirus expedited that timeline and the Mobile Food Pantry has been making 2 – 3 stops per week since mid-March, with demand growing.

“It is incredible how quickly word has spread. At the start of the shutdown, we connected with our existing partners and made sure that the local health departments, school districts, and community agencies knew about our resources,” said Beth Englezos, Manager of Senior Programs & Hunger Prevention. “Within a few weeks, we were connected with new partners including housing communities for adults with disabilities and low-income seniors, and the local school systems to help them support youth in the Title I program, as well as other families who are facing financial challenges due to job loss or reduced income.”

Seniors are one of the most at-risk demographics during the pandemic, and it was clear that seniors would be more severely impacted by social distancing guidelines.

“Our seniors are experiencing high levels of fear right now; the reports have been clear that older adults, in particular those who are already frail or have pre-existing conditions, face the greatest risk in contracting the virus,” said Ms. Napell. “Our Senior Services team receives new calls each week from clients, or those who have heard about our agency, seeking help accessing food.” 

JFCS transitioned its Kosher Café, a designated Senior Nutrition Site funded by the Mercer County Office on Aging to provide hot, nutritious meals to low-income seniors, to a grab-and-go format the week prior to the official state-wide shutdown. The Kosher Café has seen a 25% increase in attendance as more of the regular guests come more often and word spreads to others who need this resource.

The agency also maintains a Kosher Meals on Wheels (KMOW) program that supplies five meals per week to homebound older adults who wish to keep a Kosher diet. Through a recent emergency funding award by the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, the agency will be expanding the program to provide a total of 14 meals per week to the current KMOW recipients and expand the program to others who find themselves in need of food including Holocaust Survivors and seniors enrolled in JFCS services.

JFCS established a ‘Shop & Drop’ program wherein the agency matches a volunteer with a senior who expressed a need for help getting groceries. 

“Older adults are experiencing the same obstacles as many of us – difficulty securing delivery times from local stores and having limited options when placing orders. Additionally, seniors may not have reliable transportation or simply be afraid to venture into a store,” said Ms. Napell. 

‘Shop & Drop’ volunteers coordinate directly with the senior for their shopping list and a delivery schedule that works for them. The volunteer completes the shopping in the store and delivers to the doorstep of the senior for a no-contact transaction. The program is designed for seniors who do not have financial need but are facing difficulty getting out to a grocery store on a regular basis.

“I am incredibly proud of my staff, even as new challenges arise week after week with new guidelines, they have not faltered in their commitment to our clients,” says Ms. Napell. “In a time when help, hope and healing are needed more than ever, JFCS remains steady in our commitment to the community.”

For more information about program offerings, visit the JFCS website or call at 609-987-8100 Mon-Thurs 9 AM – 5 PM and Fridays 9 AM – 4 PM.

JFCS Mobile Food Pantry Wins NJHSA 2020 Annual Conference Award

May 5, 2020

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) was awarded the Network of Jewish Human Service Agency’s 2020 Annual Conference Pillar of Excellence Award in the category Innovation for the Mobile Food Pantry.  Award winners were recognized during the VISION 2020: NJHSA Virtual Annual Meeting attended by more than 200 agency executives, professionals, and lay leaders.

Illuminating the work of our most exemplary member organization is the goal of the Pillar of Excellence.  This year we had many stellar submissions from among our members, and our selection process involved rigorous peer review.” said NJHSA CEO Reuben Rotman. “With a mission to serve their community, JFCS has demonstrated their ability to foster high impact solutions, innovative practices and dynamic opportunities.”

About Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA)
The Network is an international membership association of more than 140 nonprofit human service agencies in the United States, Canada and Israel. Its members provide a full range of human services for the Jewish community and beyond, including healthcare, career, employment and mental health services, as well as programs for youth, families and seniors, Holocaust survivors, immigrants and refugees, persons with disabilities and caregivers. The Network strives to be the leading voice for the Jewish human service sector. As the go-to resource for advocacy, best practices, innovation and research, partnerships and collaborations, The Network strengthens agencies so they can better serve their communities. For more information about NJHSA visit or call 201-977-2400.  

JFCS Adapts Services, Continues to Provide Critical Programs during Outbreak

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.