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.

Reconnecting with Our Roots, A Message for Rosh Hashanah

We hope this note finds all our community members healthy and well. During times of uncertainty and disruption, we often find comfort by reconnecting with our roots. In the past months, many folks have literally returned to their hometowns and the security of their family home.

 As we approach this most-unusual High Holiday season, we hope you, too, find comfort in connecting with your roots – to the familiarity of Jewish traditions, rituals and values. There is stability and control to be found in marking this New Year, like we have so many times before, and defining a new beginning for ourselves and our community.

In these challenging times, JFCS remains firmly grounded in our guiding principles of Help, Hope and Healing. By remaining true to our principles, we have been able to adapt to the changing needs of our clients and grow in line with our mission. These concepts also work to help connect us with our Jewish roots.

HELP …a concept most often associated with mitzvot and Tzedakah (charitable giving). From a young age, we become familiar with the importance of performing acts of kindness and making charitable donations. Helping others, specifically those most in need, becomes an ingrained habit.

HOPEL’Dor V’Dor (from generation to generation) for Jewish families: this is the thread that connects us to those who came before and those who will come after us. There is hope that every time we share our values, traditions and history, the next generation will carry forward these lessons and build upon them. We constantly look forward with hope.

HEALINGTikkun Olam – repairing the world. In the Judaism, we learn that we have a responsibility to see beyond individual acts of kindness and to contribute to broader change to heal what is broken in our local, national and global communities.

In honor of the New Year, ask how can I help? How do I help others find hope? How can I help heal my community?

Help a neighbor by volunteering to make calls to a local, isolated senior, or donate $50, which can support one week of Kosher Meals on Wheels for a homebound older adult.

Give hope to those who are struggling emotionally by directing them to the JFCS Drop-In hours, or making a contribution of $500 which can support someone in need of ongoing counseling.

Be part of healing the increasing food insecurity in Mercer County by organizing a food drive for the JFCS pantries, or make a gift of $5,000 which can fund two Mobile Food Pantry distributions, reaching 100 families.

Reconnect with your roots and make a gift to JFCS that honors the values embodied in Help, Hope and Healing. Your generosity will aid those most in need – a gift marking a transition to a new start.

Wishing you the peace, prosperity, health and happiness rooted in our celebration of the New Year.

Michelle Napell, Executive Director 

Arlene Pedovitch, Board President

How to Manage Screen time during COVID-19

Is it possible to practice digital wellness during COVID-19?

Many parents have expressed concerns that their children have been spending too much time in front of screens during COVID-19. The American Heart Association is urging parents to drastically cut the hours their kids can use their phones, computers, tablets, television, and video games.  A recent study from Common Sense Media reported that pre-teens are spending six hours a day in front of a screen and teens nine hours a day.

Parents are challenged with new circumstances as screens are everywhere and children are now learning and playing online. As the school year begins, many children will now be required to spend time on devices for a majority of their school day, which makes it even more important to establish a balance during their recreational time. The reality is everyone needs to be flexible in setting rules and to consider the purpose and benefits of the devices our children use (and ourselves!)

Let’s look at a few suggestions: 

  • Most importantly, parents should model healthy digital behavior by limiting their own screen time and putting their devices down to engage with their children.
  • Set rules around the use of screen time. For example, preview programs, games, and apps before allowing your children to view or play with them; or, consider watching, playing, or using them with your child.
  • Establish time limits for screen use and stick to them! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting hours-per-day limits for children/teens and suggest use of the media time calculator to determine an appropriate amount of time based on the child’s age.
  • Designate a screen free day where physical activity, reading and spending time outdoors is encouraged.
  • Create media free zones such as no screens in the bedrooms and no device use during mealtimes.
  • Plan for screen breaks. Frequent breaks can stop the brain from becoming over stimulated and combat screen addiction.
  • A good rule is to stop all exposure to screens and devices one hour prior to bedtime.
  • Provide alternatives to screen time; play a board game, go on a hike or a bike ride.

Allowing your child to be involved in creating a plan that works for your family is important, it will help them stick to it. Setting limits now will help your child properly manage their screen time and develop digital wellness skills.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC (Director of Clinical Services)

Celebrating the Jewish High Holidays during COVID-19

The Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (beginning September 18) and Yom Kippur (beginning September 27), will be celebrated in new ways this year.

The pandemic will dramatically impact how the Jewish community “gathers” and observes these important holidays. At JFCS, we understand it can be an overwhelming prospect and are providing a number of resources for you, your family, friends, neighbors and our entire Jewish community in Mercer County.

JFCS Resources

Holiness at Home: Observing the High Holidays Outside of the Synagogue, Webinar hosted by Andrea Gaynor, LCSW and Beverly Rubman, Chaplain that explored the many ways in which Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, presents opportunities to prepare both spiritually and psychologically. The webinar also discussed how to make High Holiday virtual services more personally meaningful and relevant.

Bereavement and the Holidays During COVID-19

Readings & Articles

Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days: A Guided Journal, Kerry M. Olitsky and Rachel T. Sabath

Mahzor Lev Shalem for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holy Day Gail Twersky Reimer and Judith A. Kates

God is a Verb, Rabbi David Cooper (Modern Kabbalistic view of God and spirituality)

New prayers and poems https://www.ritualwell.org/

Diverse articles on the High Holidays https://www.myjewishlearning.com/

Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation https://www.schusterman.org/

  • Complete downloadable Rosh HaShanah Seder
  • Schusterman Family Foundation Haggadah

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!

From Generation to Generation, Internship Experiences to Take With You

It was 20 years ago last fall when I first step foot into JFCS as a Senior Service intern. 

I did not know what to expect or what impact this experience would have on me.  Reflecting back, I can honestly say this intern experience changed my life. One of my favorite aspects of being Coordinator of Teen Programs is working with interns.

I cannot thank enough what Wendy Cacacie did for me 2 decades ago. She has taught me unforgettable social work lessons that I still use to this day. My goal is to instill a meaningful experience to my interns as Wendy has done for me.

I have worked with close to 50 student interns throughout the years and continue to be amazed by their creativity and outside the box thinking with special projects.

This summer, Dana, one of my interns served on a College Perspectives Panel and talked about her college and gap year experiences. Rachel, another student, assisted in creating content and resources for the Summer Teen Programming Series. Her fresh perspectives and ideas enhanced these leadership seminars. Grace, my third intern, also created content for this summer’s programming series. She will also be helping with the Challah Bake through Challah for Hunger, a student run organization at the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University.

These programs would not have been successful without the help and participation of these students. Working remotely has eliminated so many barriers of distance and transportation to connect with teens from all over the county. Working with Teen Programs is definitely a great filter to finding future interns.  Even though most of the students I work with have other interests, the skills learned during the internship are hard to be duplicated in other places. At JFCS, we teach our interns the ins and outs of our jobs, how to succeed in a non-profit environment, and how what we do fits into the overall agency and community as a whole. Interns walk away with an experience that they can discuss in any interview setting and transferrable work skills to include on their resume.

Celeste Albert, LCSW, Coordinator of Teen Programs

Meet Rachel!

The 2020 pandemic has had broad economic impact, so when approaching summer opportunities I knew it would be a challenge not only finding internships but also finding businesses with the bandwidth to take on interns in uncertain times. Internship opportunities for college students are very diverse, so gaining research and communication skills can be found in a range of work.

COVID-19 has shed new light on how people can transform their skills and knowledge into jobs or volunteer work that is not necessarily aligned with their career goals. In working with a nonprofit, I am gaining important skills that I will use for future intern opportunities and recognizing the benefit of being open to new experiences.

Zoom has become a common platform for communication, so even though we coult not talk or work on projects in person, weekly meetings were still comforting and informative. My weekly meetings kept me engaged in the work because it was a nice break to talk about the research instead of typing it all down in a shared document. Presenting your research to someone allows you to bounce their ideas off of yours and appreciate their satisfaction with the project that you share.

My research included mental health, educational inequalities and other politically and socially topical issues which kept me engaged in the work. I felt it was important to discuss these real world topic amongst peers to gain students’ perspectives.

In college, I study law, public policy and sociology, which all have similar themes and lessons taught within each department. As a research intern for JFCS, my projects varied, but one assignment that I found applicable to my course work focused on how students can be leaders in their communities. From organizing fundraisers, helping at a food pantry, or collecting backpacks for a school supply drive, we wanted to emphasize that students can easily be leaders and mentors in their community by inspiring others to complete acts of kindness. In my college studies, we often analyze lawyers, policymakers, local businesses, and other decision makers and how their collective acts of leadership and of kindness are inspiring others to change and do good in the world.

I am on a pre-law track in college, since I’ve always been intrigued by law school and the legal profession. Law school teaches students how to think, advocate, and analyze, and these skills can be applied to working at a law firm, a university, a hospital, or many other businesses. My internship work includes conducting research and planning lessons for the Zoom program participants. This work helped hone my research and presentation skills, skills I feel can always be practiced and improved, and skills that are critical to pursuing a legal profession.

Through my work with JFCS, I have gained awareness of the importance and impact of nonprofits in communities, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. This has inspired me to explore and reach out to other organizations to understand their mission and how people can support their work.

I have loved working with Celeste; her passion for each of the projects and assignments we’ve discussed makes her such a good leader and the students look up to her. I’ve lived in West Windsor for a long time, and have known of JFCS all my life, but contributing and volunteering with the JFCS team has been extremely rewarding. JFCS has accomplished so much with their food pantry, teen services, and counseling center, and I have been deeply impacted by this internship. I’ll always be thankful for this opportunity and the skills and connections I have found. I hope to remain involved with projects and volunteering in the future as part of JFCS.

Rachel Judson, Intern

Meet Grace!

I was originally supposed to go to Vienna for a summer class, but once that got cancelled, I was fortunate to have Princeton Hillel, Center for Jewish Life as a resource. The staff at CJL was able to connect me with JFCS for an internship opening.

This internship has exposed me to new websites and platforms and working with the unfamiliar technologies has been incredibly engaging. The work differs greatly from my studies, most often in literature and language, and allows me to explore new opportunities. Researching new topics has been exciting week after week.

I am not sure where my future plans will take me as I consider graduate work or moving into education. In any path I pursue, the experience with curriculum development, presentation, and connection with others will be valuable.

I had no idea the scope of social services in this community prior to this internship, and I am incredibly thankful to have learned more about the work done in Mercer County.

Grace Rosenberg, Intern

Meet Dana!

As a rising sophomore, yes I was extremely concerned about having limited opportunities due to the virus. All of my original plans for the summer consisted of physical work, so it was difficult for me to imagine the translation into a remote environment. Additionally, the ongoing challenges of the virus amde it difficult to imagine that summer interns would be a priority.

I have found that there are primarily two elements that have made the internship engaging: communication and meaningful work. Meeting with Celeste every week to plan and discuss ideas has been instrumental in helping me set goals and decide what work must be done. Week after week, the meaningful work that keeps me engaged.

From panel discussions to fundraising, all of the work that JFCS does is important, both for the development of the individual and the larger community. Recalling this as I work remotely motivates me, and contributes to my devotion to the projects. As a STEM major, my internship experience may not relate directly to my course work, but it does resonate with the values that are stressed by the community. Mentoring, volunteering, and service are the cornerstone of Princeton, and are taught in every discipline. My internship this summer plays on this message of service to the community.

After graduation, I intend to enter the medical or healthcare field. I am extremely thankful, as I know that everything that I have learned this summer will be applicable. Fundraising for causes, working with teenagers, or even simply planning events are all skills I have developed this summer and will continue to develop after I graduate and enter the professional sphere.  To date, the most impactful experience I have had through this position was preparing to speak to high school juniors and seniors on a panel. I remember how challenging the college process was for myself, and I can only imagine how much more stressful it must be now. I am thankful for the opportunity to speak with younger students and try to advise them the best way that I can. 

Dana Waitman, Intern

Internships: Adapting Opportunities For a Pandemic

JFCS has always prided itself on providing a variety of internship experiences to high school, college and graduate school students. The ability to offer educational opportunities is an important part of our mission. We were particularly committed to continuing this practice during COVID-19. Through a combination of creativity and flexibility, students are participating, on a modified basis, in the agency’s existing programs and services. As a result, they have gained an additional perspective on how agencies must adapt their programs and respond to client needs during this pandemic. We are so appreciative to have such motivated and dedicated students interning at JFCS this summer.  

Beverly Mishkin, LCSW, Director of Case Management & Senior Services

Meet Samantha!

My name is Samantha Goldfarb, and I am serving as an intern at JFCS this summer as a part of The College of New Jersey’s Summer Community Leaders program.

The summer is only halfway through and I have already recognized personal growth achieved through my new experiences. The COVID-19 pandemic has limited my scope of work, specifically face-to-face interactions with clients; yet, I have still been able to catch glimpses of the great community JFCS serves, from the friendliness of the Kosher Café attendees to the kind and good humored JFCS staff. Moments that have had the greatest impact include the look on our clients’ faces when they receive a bag of food and the excitement of community partners with whom we work to expand our outreach. If our community is this lively and connected now, I can only imagine how wonderful it is without social and spatial restrictions!

Where the altered programming has changed what I originally expected from an internship experience, I have also found it has afforded me unique opportunities I would not have had in a traditional internship placement. For example, I now have the opportunity to provide hands-on service work during a crisis while observing how a model organization can address the growing needs of its clients amid challenge and disorder.

My educational background is on disability rights and advocacy whereas the internship focuses on food security, nevertheless, my goal is to run a non-profit like JFCS one day, and any organization will have to be prepared to withstand any and all disasters that come its way. In this respect this modified internship is teaching me a lot about professional adaptability and how to best address problems as they arise. No organization could have been fully prepared for the demands of the pandemic, but this internship has shown me how a combination of flexible practices and a commitment to problem-solving allows an agency to stay on its feet and keep serving effectively.

I have seen the importance of helping employees connect with one another even if they have to be physically separated. I have seen an agency maintain its scope of service and level of impact by adapting programs to work within new limitations and focusing on building connections with other agencies to pool community resources.

While I regret missing out on some aspects of traditional service, I am very grateful for JFCS for teaching and modeling good practices for my work for years to come – and for still finding ways to sneak in moments with the community that make service so rewarding in the first place.

Samantha Goldfarb, Intern

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