1st Annual JFCS Wheels for Meals a Success!

The 1st Annual JFCS Wheels for Meals welcomed over 250 cyclists on a foggy autumn morning to Mercer County Community College. To date, the event has raised over $93,000 in support of JFCS food programs.

“We were astounded at the turnout for our inaugural event,” said Michelle Napell, Executive Director. “The enthusiasm of all the cyclists, from the experienced riders to the young cyclists representing local synagogues, it was a true demonstration of the power of community coming together for a cause.”

The support of 20 sponsors helped jump start the success of the event. Each cyclists who registered then had the opportunity to set up fundraising pages and have their networks donate towards a personal fundraising goal. Fundraisers could also form teams, which proved popular with local riding groups, synagogues, businesses, and even bar & bat mitzvah projects.

“We are thrilled to have set such an exciting precedent and only growing the event in future years,” adds Napell.

See the Wheels for Meals site for full cyclists info and to continue to contribute to the cause.

Event Sponsors:

Crook & Marker | Lisa & Mark Tobias

Bristol Myers Squibb | Susan & Michael Falcon | Firmenich Charitable Foundation | Lennar | Stark & Stark
Elaine & Barry Sussman | Vending Trucks Inc
David Adams | Bank of Princeton | Bob’s Discount Furniture | The Gershen Group LLC | Patty & Adolf Herst 
NJM Insurance GroupOrland’s Ewing Memorial Chapel | PJ’s Pancake House | Rick Pollock & Eric Risberg
Clive & Teresa Samuels Pat & Ray Schlaefer | Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton |   Szaferman Lakind
Taft Communications

Event Partners: 

Jay’s Cycles Princeton | NJ Sings | Wegmans | Witherspoon Media Group

Enjoy select photos from our event and view all in our Facebook Photo Album.

September is Hunger Action Month! How Can You Help?

In 2008, Feeding America established Hunger Action Month, recognized during the month of September. As we continue to see the long-term impact of the pandemic, we know those who were already in vulnerable financial positions have been pushed even further.

In Mercer County, 1 in 10 individuals is estimated to be food insecure.

This September, how can you help during Hunger Action Month?

Taking Small Steps for a Big Impact

    • On your next trip to the grocery store, pick up a few extra items to donate to your local food pantry. The JFCS food pantry accepts Kosher food items and is always in need of healthy breakfast foods: hot & cold cereal, oatmeal, pancake/waffle mixes
    • Make a monetary donation to a local food pantry or food bank. If you want to support the JFCS food pantry and food distribution programs, make a gift on our donation page and include a Note: Hunger Action Month.
    • Plant-a-Row – harvest season is here! If you maintain a personal garden, consider donating excess produce to the JFCS pantry. All summer long our food pantry has benefited from donations from personal and community gardens that have allowed us to offer a variety of fresh produce to our clients. Want to know more about what to plant and how to donate? Connect with pantry coordinator Taryn Krietzman, RDN at TarynK@jfcsonline.org.
    • JFCS is the Stop & Shop Pennington Bloomin’ 4 Good Partner for September! All month long, for every Bloomin’ for Good bouquet (designated with red sticker) sold, the JFCS pantry receives $1. Support our pantry while spreading joy.

Group Efforts

    • Volunteer! You and your family or a small group can help pack bags at the JFCS pantry or provide support at a mobile pantry distribution. Connect with our volunteer coordinator, Eden Aaronson at EdenA@jfcsonline.org to learn more.
    • Organize a food drive! Whether you’re back to the office, back to school, or still connecting virtually, you can organize a food drive in your community. Learn about how to organize a drive for JFCS by connecting with Eden Aaronson at EdenA@jfcsonline.org.

Go the Extra *MILE*

    • Sign up to ride in the 1st Annual JFCS Wheels for Meals bike ride fundraiser on Sunday, October 3! This new fundraiser supports all JFCS food programs – the on-site and mobile food pantries and senior nutrition programs. This event is perfect for serious and not-so-serious riders with multiple route options. Learn more and register to ride at jfcswheels4meals.org!

JFCS Mobile Food Pantry Benefits Over 30,000 in 18 Months

In mid-July, the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry met an important milestone when the program distributed its 10,000th bag of food in the community.

The Mobile Food Pantry launched in January 2020 and grew quickly, with the initial roll out expedited by the onset of the pandemic. The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry includes two vehicles, the original mobile pantry truck and Poppy’s Pantry, a sprinter van which was purchased through a private gift in memory of Stuart “Poppy” Plotkin.

Both vehicles are out on the road every week and make over 20 distributions each month. Since its launch in early 2020, the mobile pantry program has made over 280 distributions stops across the Greater Mercer region. Distribution locations include a wide network of partners – community housing projects, schools, daycares, churches and a variety of social service organizations.

“When it’s 50 bags to a senior housing complex, 20 bags to a daycare facility, 60 bags to a school, it is incredible to see just how quickly we distributed 10,000 bags benefitting well over 30,000 individuals here in our community,” said Beth Englezos, JFCS Manager of Hunger Prevention.

Both the JFCS brick-and-mortar pantry and both mobile pantries continue to see high demand as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt by the most vulnerable in the community.

“Our mobile pantry never stopped, even though it was a new program, we saw early on in the pandemic just how vital mobility was in getting food to food insecure individuals and families, now forced to lockdown for their safety,” says Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director. “We are prepared to maintain our high level of deliveries and growing to meet demand as we continue to see the financial fallout from the pandemic.”

Upgrades In the Office & On the Road

Through generous grants and the support of the community, JFCS was able to keep the mobile pantries stocked to meet the need.

“We took advantage of having most of our staff working remotely to reconfigure the offices space which houses our brick-and-mortar pantry to accommodate the expanded storage needs in maintaining our mobile program,” adds Napell.

Private grants supported the purchase of new refrigeration and freezers to store fresh and frozen items distributed through both the brick-and-mortar and mobile pantries. The JFCS pantry programs are designed as healthy, choice pantries; while the pandemic has limited the choice option, JFCS remains committed to the healthy pantry model. Taryn Krietzman, JFCS Pantry Coordinator, is also a registered dietitian and informs the selection of products regularly stocked in the pantries. Additionally, Ms. Krietzman will create monthly recipes and resources that are distributed to all pantry clients and made available in both English and Spanish.

When Poppy’s Pantry was added to the mobile pantry fleet, it was designed to be an extra vehicle to transport bags of shelf-stable goods and select produce on short distribution runs. In the spring of 2021, JFCS received funding through Mercer Street Friends Food Bank Center for Nutritional Health and Wellness’ Network Investment Initiative, made possible with help from The Community Food Bank of New Jersey and lead funding from the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund and its partners. With this grant, the agency was able to have the van be converted to a fully refrigerated vehicle. Both vehicles are now able to transport fresh and frozen items at food-safe temperature to any location within the Greater Mercer region.

Preparing for the Next Phase

The JFCS mobile pantry programs continues to grow through a network of partners. The mobile pantry has made two distributions in partnership with the Muslim Center of Greater Princeton’s Hunger Van, which delivers hot meals to distribute to those in need. These distributions have brought the JFCS pantry across the river into Bucks County to churches and locations working with the Hunger Van.

“We know that, unfortunately, there are still so many deeply impact financially from this pandemic, and this impact will be felt for the months and years ahead,” says Napell.

A recent study by Legal Services of New Jersey’s Poverty Research Institute, demonstrated that the “true poverty” level in New Jersey is on average 2.5 times higher than the federal poverty line. The study considered actual cost of living compared to income. According to the study, in Mercer County, the true cost of living is almost 3 times what the federal government defines as the poverty line. In addition, recent data available through the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that an individual working minimum wage at $12/hour must work 88 hours a week to afford a modest apartment.

“The numbers show just how dire a position people are facing,” said Englezos. “When you think about the true cost of living from housing to daycare expenses to car expenses to utilities, a monthly paycheck is often spent before any groceries are purchased. It’s devastating; devastating to a parent who must make the choice between a bill and a meal, devastating to the family who now face long-term effects on their health and overall well-being, devastating to a community where a significant portion of the population faces this situation day after day.”

Prior to the pandemic, the JFCS brick-and-mortar pantry would allow clients to access the food pantry monthly, by appointment. It has been open 5 days a week since spring 2020, and most clients make weekly visits to keep their households fed. Similarly, the JFCS mobile pantries have several regular distributions each month, sometimes more than once a month, to ensure that their resources are reaching those in need as often as possible.

How to Help

Throughout the month of August and September, JFCS is organizing “Stuff the Truck” events around the community to collect healthy breakfast foods to stock in the pantry. The first “Stuff the Truck” event is held in partnership with Trenton Thunder on Wednesday, August 4 at 6 PM. Community members are welcome to join JFCS at the ballpark and bring a donation item for the food drive. Ticket link and details about upcoming “Stuff the Truck” events can be found at jfcsonline.org/events.

“The first meal of the day truly sets the tone and gives you the positive start needed,” said Taryn Krietzman, RDN, Pantry Coordinator. “We’re hoping we can get the pantry well stocked ahead of the school year so that food insecure children and families can have a nutritious breakfast to count on before they start their day.”

Community members are also encouraged to “Plant-a-Row” for JFCS in their personal or community gardens. Several local individuals and groups, including West Windsor Plainsboro Girl Scout Troops, synagogue and church groups, have been harvesting fresh produce from their gardens to donate to the JFCS pantry. These donations have helped the pantry maintain variety in the produce distributed to clients. Plant-a-Row donations are accepted through the fall; those interested in participating may contact Taryn Krietzman at TarynK@jfcsonline.org.

And on Sunday, October 3, JFCS will be holding the 1st Annual Wheels for Meals bike ride fundraiser. All event proceeds will support JFCS food programs – the on-site and mobile pantry, food distribution services and senior nutrition programs. Find ride details at jfcswheels4meals.org.

JFCS Inaugural Wheels for Meals Aims to Raise Over $100K to Fight Hunger in Mercer Community

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) will be holding their 1st Annual Wheels for Meals, bike ride to fight hunger, on Sunday morning, October 3, 2021, at Mercer County Community College.

Event proceeds will benefit all JFCS food programs, including their on-site and mobile food pantries and senior nutrition programs. Collectively, JFCS food programs benefit over 30,000 individuals across the greater Mercer region each year.

“During the pandemic, not a single one of our programs stopped, and our food programs saw higher demand than ever,” says Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director. “We anticipate that the increase in food insecurity in our community will continue, which is why JFCS is thrilled to launch this new annual fundraiser dedicated entirely to supporting our food programs.”

Individual riders can register for their choice of 32-mile, 10-mile or 3-mile routes, all starting on Mercer County Community College West Windsor Campus. The event also offers multiple levels of sponsorship for businesses or groups looking to create teams and support at a higher level.

Find all event details at www.JFCSWheels4Meals.org.

Event sponsors include Firmenich Charitable Foundation, Stark & Stark, The Gershen Group LLC, and NJM Insurance Group. Witherspoon Media Group is the official media partner of the event.

Our Year in Review: Celebrating Community & Stories of Impact

JFCS was thrilled to host an almost “normal” Annual Meeting on June 1, welcoming staff, Board and community award winners and their families to an outdoor celebration held at JCC Abrams Camp.

We took the opportunity to recognize staff anniversaries, celebrate the winners of the Rose & Louis H. Linowitz Mensch Awards, and present our annual awards to community partners. We also reflected on the past year, sharing stories of impact across our programs, and what stories are coming in the next year.

View a short recap of the full event below:

2021 Rose & Louis H. Linowitz Mensch Awards

8th Grade Mensch-in-Training:

Zachary Miller

12th Grade Mensch Award Winners:

Jeremy Brandspiegel

Yoni Livstone

Mark Sheffield

2021 JFCS Community Award Winners

Tzedakah Award Winner:

Ilana Scheer

Kehillah Award Winner:

The Big Thinkers Group

Gemilut Chasadim Award Winner:

Hayley Aaronson

IN THE NEWS! Mercer tote bag giveaway aims to end plastic

June 4, 2021

In the most recent Mercer County Sustainability Newsletter, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes’ Planning Department, with support from the Office of Economic Development, provided several food pantries in the County with reusable shopping bags and education on New Jersey’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, including the JFCS pantries.

Read more here.

Planting the Seeds: Encouraging a Stronger Relationship & Ownership over Food Resources

Through two recent donations, JFCS is growing a program within our food pantry to encourage and empower clients to grow their own food. Recently, the agency was able to provide tomato plant seedlings to clients. JFCS agency has a relationship with Abe’s Acres Farm, located in Hightstown, where agency staff bring specific cardboard waste – collected through regular, large-scale food deliveries to the pantry – to the farm which is turned into composting material. In early May, when dropping off cardboard, Abe’s Acres provided 200 tomato plant seedlings for JFCS to share with pantry clients.

Through an ongoing partnership with ONEProject, a Robbinsville-based organization, JFCS also received a donation of 250 painted planters and more seeds to provide our clients with additional resources.

Why encourage clients to grow their own food?

Our clients are food insecure and low-income. One of the most basic advantages of growing one’s own produce is that it allows more, nutritious food to get onto the tables while saving money.

Food pantries face significant challenges in acquiring perishable foods, especially produce, even when they have the means to keep these items stocked. The JFCS pantry houses multiple full-sized refrigerators and freezers as well as having refrigeration and freezer storage available on both mobile food pantry vehicles. Despite this, even our agency faces challenges when trying to keep fresh items stocked in the volume needed to service all our clients through both the on-site and mobile food pantries. By providing resources directly to clients, we can circumvent many of those challenges and allow the client to have food from the freshest and most primary source – the plant!

The Importance of Access to Fresh Produce

In a 2019 study by the CDC, 85% of food pantry clients said it was important to have fresh fruits and vegetables, but only 52% said these were always available. Food pantry clients’ fruit and vegetable consumption falls short of recommendations. In the same CDC study, about two-thirds of food pantry clients had a household member with a diet-related chronic disease. Poor nutrition can lead to increased risk for developing diet-related health conditions.

JFCS prides itself on being a healthy, choice-pantry, but there is always room to improve. By encouraging donations from community members through their own gardens and giving our clients the tools to grow their own food, we are taking our healthy, choice-pantry to the next level.

More than Fruits & Veggies

The ONE Project donation included cilantro seeds. Herbs and spices are often overlooked as donations to food pantries but are essential for clients to secure their cultural foodways. By giving a planter or seed to grow an herb, our clients can choose what they want to grow beyond anything provided through our pantry.

How Can You Help?

JFCS is tying into the national Plant-a-Row initiative which encourages individuals to plant items in their personal or communal gardens for the specific purpose of harvesting to donate to local food pantries.

The JFCS food pantry will accept donations from local gardens to be provided to our clients. In years past, the JFCS pantry has been able to accept limited donations of fresh produce but now with the mobile food pantry going out 3-5 times per week, there is significantly increased demand for a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The on-site food pantry also continues to see high use, with 80-100 visits per month.

If you have questions about donating from your personal or community garden, reach out to Taryn Krietzman at TarynK@jfcsonline.org. For those outside of the Mercer County region, individuals can utilize the pantry finder on AmpleHarvest.com to locate a local food pantry accepting donations from personal or community gardens.

Taryn Krietzman, RDN