COVID – 19 UPDATES

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JFCS Women’s Alliance Tackling Increasing Hunger during COVID-19

October 5, 2020

In 2019, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County [JFCS] introduced the Women’s Alliance, a membership-based collaboration of women focused on addressing hunger in Mercer County. With 78 Founding Members and 25 additional donors contributing over $84,000, the group served as the largest collective founding sponsor of the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry.

Entering its second year, the Women’s Alliance is inviting new and returning members to support this initiative. The Women’s Alliance committee recognized it was more important than ever to support programs addressing food insecurity despite facing the obstacles of creating an engaging, group-based effort in the midst of a pandemic.

“In speaking with Michelle Napell, the JFCS Executive Director, I learned how drastically the pandemic has impacted already vulnerable populations, right here in our community,” said Robin Persky, founding member of JFCS Women’s Alliance and member of the Women’s Alliance Event Committee. “Not only are those populations facing greater challenges to accessing food, but now we have thousands more in need because of job loss and the overall economic impact of COVID. There are so many who never needed the support of a pantry and are now turning to JFCS and other community resources.”

The Women’s Alliance will once again support the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry, which launched in January 2020. The pandemic has accelerated the impact of the mobile program with 3-4 stops being made each week at partner distribution sites across Mercer County. In accordance with health and safety guidelines, the mobile pantry is delivering pre-packed bags of groceries in a contact free manner. JFCS continues to serve healthy options including meat, dairy and fresh produce in addition to non-perishable items. The goal is to return to an all choice pantry when social distancing restrictions are lifted and it is safe to do so.

“We are incredibly appreciative of the Women’s Alliance Committee members for remaining dedicated to their mission in the midst of this pandemic,” said Michelle Napell, Executive Director. “Their support is needed now more than ever.”

The Women’s Alliance Committee has tapped Joanne Canady-Brown to serve as the keynote speaker at their virtual event for members in October. Canady-Brown is the owner of The Gingered Peach in Lawrenceville, NJ and a James Beard Foundation Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Fellow. The virtual event will feature Canady-Brown being interviewed by Nora Muchanic, former Action News New Jersey correspondent (6abc Action News) to share her story of “Community and Resilience” from building up her current business, to navigating the challenges of COVID-19 as a small business owner, and how through it all, she has found support from her community, and in turn supported those in need.

This year, there are three membership levels: Contributing Member for minimum donation of $180, Supporting Member for a minimum donation of $540, and Sustaining Member for minimum donation of $1,000. All members will be listed on JFCS Website, in Annual Report and be able to attend the 2020 Member Event, being held virtually:                                    

Event: Community & Resilience – An Interview with Joanne Canady-Brown, owner of The Gingered Peach, by Nora Muchanic, former Action News NJ correspondent

Date: Thursday, October 29, 2020      

Time: 12 – 1 PM

Location: Held via Zoom

Private Event for Women’s Alliance Members Only, link provided upon registration

Find more information and additional benefits associated with each membership level on our Women’s Alliance Giving page.

To become a member of the JFCS Women’s Alliance for 2020-2021, contact Helaine Isaacs, Development Associate at 609-987-8100 Ext 104 or HelaineI@jfcsonline.org

Snack Attack Halloween Food Drive

It’s Halloween 2020, help spread cheer, not germs! Our Halloween Snack Drive-By Food Drive will be collecting individually wrapped Kosher snacks.

Snack bags will benefit children of the JFCS food pantry and our partner agencies across Mercer County.

When? Sunday, October 25 from 2 – 5 PM

Where? JFCS Parking Lot 707 Alexander Road, Suite 102 Princeton NJ 08540

What? Donate individually wrapped snacks:

  • Candy
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Chips
  • Veggie Straws
  • Cookies
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Cereal Bars

All items must be marked Kosher.

Can’t make the event? Check out our Amazon Wishlist to ship items directly to our offices!


Our thanks to Carli Masia, Snack Attack Chair

Registration Open for 2020 Mercer County Turkey Trot (Virtual Event!)

September 21, 2020

The Mercer County Turkey Trot, hosted by Rounview Capital, will be held virtually November 21 – 29, 2020. The event supports food pantries and food banks in Mercer County including the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry and on-site pantry.

Registration is now open! Join Team JFCS at registration and help us be the Biggest Bunch yet again.

The growing need for food in Mercer County, and how JFCS is adapting to meet the need

September 10, 2020

JFCS held a virtual Funders Forum for our most dedicated supporters of agency food pantries and food distribution programs. The presentation shared how drastically the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the need for food across the world, including in Mercer County.

According to Feeding America, by the end of 2020, the food insecurity rate in Mercer County is expected to rise to 13.6%. This means over 50,000 men, women and children in our county will be food insecure.

JFCS also used the forum to share the impact our agency has made through our Mobile Food Pantry, on-site pantry and distribution programs.

View the entire presentation here:

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Hake, M., E. Engelhard, A. Dewey, C. Gundersen (2020). The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity [Brief series]. Available from Feeding America.

Kenneally, B. (2020). America at Hunger’s Edge, New York Times Magazine.

US Department of Agriculture, (2019). Definitions of Food Security. Available online.

Preparing for the Jewish Holidays during COVID-19

August 28, 2020

The Jewish High Holidays begin in one month. The celebrations of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, mark an important time for the Jewish community. Families and friends gather for large meals to celebrate together, synagogues welcome in hundreds from the community to observe. However, like so many significant events, COVID-19 has disrupted plans for the High Holidays.

With the prospect of Zoom gatherings and streamed services, it can be difficult to manage our emotions and feel prepared to mark these days of celebration and reflection to the fullest.

On Thursday, August 27, Andrea Gaynor, LCSW and Beverly Rubman, Chaplain, will co-host “Holiness at Home: Observing the High Holidays Outside of the Synagogue.” The webinar will examine the many ways in which Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, presents opportunities to prepare both spiritually and psychologically. Also, they will discuss how to make High Holiday virtual services more personally meaningful and relevant.

View the Recording of the Webinar Here!

Community Food Pantry Available In Princeton / West Windsor for All Mercer Residents

August 4, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for food in Mercer County. Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) maintains an on-site food pantry, the Yvette Sarah Clayman Kosher Food Pantry, which offers fresh and frozen options in addition to shelf staples to anyone in the community who is in need of groceries at this time.

Since March 2020, the pantry has seen double the usual demand each month with regular clientele relying more heavily on this resource, and increasing calls from community members who suddenly find themselves in need due to job loss or other financial crises.

“For those who were already vulnerable and food insecure, the challenges to safely and regularly accessing healthy food options have been compounded by COVID-19,” said Beth Englezos, Manager of Hunger Prevention at JFCS. “As benefit programs reach their end dates, we anticipate a further increase in need and are prepared to handle the rise in demand.”

The JFCS pantries normally offer a choice model, where clients are invited to select food products they know their families will eat and enjoy. Due to COVID-10 health and safety guidelines, JFCS is operating a prepared bag model where community members can set up a time for no-contact pick up of a pre-packed bag of groceries which includes non-perishable items, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and chicken.

Where to find the JFCS Pantry?

Our pantry is located at 707 Alexander Road, Suite 204 Princeton, NJ 08540. The office is located just off of Route 1 and accessible via NJ Transit Bus Route #600/Carnegie Center stop.

How to set up a pick up time?

Call our offices at 609-987-8100 Ext 237 to set up a pick up time. Staff is available Monday – Thursday 9 AM – 5PM and Fridays 9 AM – 4 PM.

Mobile Food Pantry, Six Months of Service in Mercer County, Reaching over 6,000 in need

July 27, 2020

In June 2019, Michelle Napell, Executive Director of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) announced the idea for a new venture – a mobile food pantry which would deliver nutritious food directly to those in Mercer County vulnerable to food insecurity and hunger. Six months later, the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry was on the road.

Since January 2020, the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry has benefitted more than 6,000 individuals across 40 distribution stops.

“We launched in January and made three stops, which served about 350 individuals, by the end of February,” said Michelle Napell. “Then March came, and with it the COVID-19 pandemic that changed the dynamic of our community. The mobile pantry became an incredibly valuable resource as demand for food increased as well as the obstacles in getting food to those with the greatest need.”

The pandemic increased demand for food in Mercer County, especially for the elderly and other vulnerable populations. JFCS ramped up the mobile pantry distribution schedule and forged a number of new partnerships.

“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 Hunger Prevention. “It is incredible to see how word continues to spread through the network of community and service agencies in Mercer County. We receive new calls each week from potential distribution sites.”

The network of partners has reached 8 of the 12 municipalities across Mercer including East Windsor, Hightstown, Lawrenceville, Princeton, Robbinsville, Trenton, West Windsor, and Yardville (Hamilton). Distribution locations include churches, low-income housing, low-income senior housing, day care centers, housing for adults with disabilities, and several local schools to support their students receiving Title I benefits. The Mobile Food Pantry is making three distributions stops per week.

The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry was designed to take the healthy-choice pantry experience on the road to partner locations where there would be a captive audience in need of this support. Due to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, the mobile pantry and brick-and-mortar pantry, located at JFCS’ Alexander Road offices, now provide pre-packed bags of food.

Staff from the Paul Robeson Charter School for the Humanities (Trenton, NJ), who organize the “Panther Pantry” to support students and their families, help JFCS staff unload a delivery of pre-packed bags of groceries to be distributed to their students.

“While we had to eliminate the choice option for the safety of staff, partners and those we serve, JFCS remained committed to offering healthy food options,” said Englezos. “We broadened our supplier network and recently we’ve been fortunate to have corporate supporters provide large-scale donations of Kosher food, including nutritious fresh and frozen products.”

For six weeks from July through August, Novo Nordisk, in partnership with their corporate food supplier, Sodexo, facilitated weekly deliveries of fresh, frozen and shelf-stable food products to JFCS for use on the mobile and on-site pantries.

“The Novo Nordisk and Sodexo connection is just one example how our existing funding partners have demonstrated innovation and generosity during these difficult times,” said Napell. “We deeply appreciate this support, especially the adherence to our Kosher guidelines.”

Representatives from Project Freedom, a network of housing developments for adults with disabilities and financial need, in front of the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry on a distribution stop.

Staff and teachers from Town Center Elementary School (West Windsor Plainsboro School District) helped at the distribution stop, one of several sponsored by Firmenich.

The brick-and-mortar pantry, [Yvette Sarah Clayman Kosher Food Pantry] and mobile food pantry, are kept Kosher in line with the agency’s Jewish roots, however both are open to the broader community regardless of background or faith.

“At the roll out, we anticipated a gradual increase in weekly stops over our first few months. The pandemic tested our capabilities and I am proud to say the team rose to the challenge,” says Napell. “We are preparing now to develop the processes and funding to get our mobile pantry on the road five days a week.” 

Back-to-School School Supply Drive

NOW THROUGH AUGUST 14th!

Whether in school or at home, let’s continue to help children in need start the school year off right!

Our goal is to supply 150+ children with the supplies they need to look forward to beginning a successful school year. Items donated benefit the children of JFCS pantry and partner agency clients in the Greater Mercer community.

Help us by donating:

  • Sturdy backpacks for middle-school and high-school students
  • Notebooks (spiral, wide rule and marble)
  • Pencil cases/pouches
  • Binders 1″ and 2″
  • Pocket folders
  • #2 Pencils
  • Pens
  • Index Cards
  • Markers
  • Highlighters

3 Ways to Donate

  1. Contribute to our Amazon Registry.
  2. Order and ship supplies of your choice from Amazon / website of choice ship to 707 Alexander Rd, Suite 204 Princeton NJ 08540
  3. Drop off items in our donation bin outside of: 707 Alexander Road, Suite 102 AND Suite 204 Princeton NJ 08540

Thanks to our special sponsor of this event: Hill Wallack LLP

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.