COVID – 19 UPDATES

Find agency updates, helpful blogs & articles, and other resources HERE

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

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

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.” 

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

IN THE NEWS! Kimberly-Clark donates 10,000 rolls of Cottonelle toilet paper to United Way of Greater Mercer County

June 13, 2020

Kimberly-Clark’s Cottonelle donated 10,000 rolls of toilet paper to United Way of Greater Mercer County (UWGMC), part of Cottonelle’s commitment to make sure toilet paper is accessible to the community throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Through partnerships with Mercer Street Friends and Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS), UWGMC was able to move resources into the community. 

Read the full story

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.

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 Smile.Amazon.com 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 BethE@jfcsonline.org or 609-987-8100 Ext 126.

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 www.networkjhsa.org or call 201-977-2400.  

What We’re Doing, What’s in the Works, and How to Help

It is impossible to look around you – even from within your own home – and not be inundated with information about the COVID-19 outbreak. These are uncharted waters for our local, national and global communities, but, there is an oddly comforting unity to know that this outbreak has an impact of everyone in our community, we are in this together.

We do not know how long our lives will be upended by restrictions and quarantines, but we do know the impact will last even longer. Right now and through the uncertain future, JFCS will be here ensuring help, hope and healing. In this phase of social distancing and disconnection, we intend to keep you, our community, well informed on JFCS actions.

What are we doing right now?

We are utilizing all available resources to ensure the most vulnerable and most in need have food:

  • We provided 50 families at Better Beginnings with packaged groceries
  • We plan to maintain our Mobile Food Pantry distribution schedule, including a stop at for 50 Redding Circle residents this week
  • April pantry hours for our on-site Yvette Sarah Clayman Kosher Food Pantry will be kept for our scheduled clients. For the health & safety of all, clients will be provided prepacked bags of grocery items, delivered to them in their cars, limiting outside access to our site.
  • Kosher Meals on Wheels continue to be delivered to homebound seniors. Meals are delivered by staff at the door with no direct contact with the recipient.
  • We are packing to-go boxes for Kosher Café seniors and have seen an increased attendance given the limited resources available for this low-income population. Last week we also provided the Kosher Café guests with a supplemental bag of grocery items to help them during this time.
  • We have frozen prepared meals available to supplement any of our seniors existing deliveries on an as-needed basis.
  • We are exploring all possible resources for packaged, pantry items and prepared meals to keep in stock as we anticipate growing need for food among our seniors and the food-insecure.
  • We are ordering Kosher for Passover meals to be distributed to our homebound senior clients.

Counseling is being provided by phone to our existing clients. Our team of counselors is available to take new calls for anyone who needs immediate assistance to cope with the heightened stress, anxiety or fear and for those with ongoing mental health concerns.

JFCS Geriatric Care Managers are making regular check-in calls and providing support by phone to our Secure@Home members, low-income seniors, Holocaust Survivors and support group members.

Volunteers have stepped up to provide check-in calls to our Kosher Meals on Wheels clients as well as seniors who were enrolled in Cooking Companions and Friendly Visitor programs.

We have launched a comprehensive resource page on our website as a one-stop source of agency information, helpful blogs from our staff on topical issues, and links to outside resources.

What is in the works?

  • Our staff is working with all community partners to make connections and ensure any available food is reaching those who need it most.
  • We are planning to launch teen engagement programs over Zoom (video conferencing) to keep our youth connected and supported during this challenging time.
  • We are creating plans to host Community Calls with one of our counselors to provide topical information on the challenges being faced by many.
  • We are working to offer free “call-in” hours during the week where callers can be connected to one of our counselors for coping skills and support.
  • We are exploring the capabilities of Zoom and other conference-calling programs to deliver supportive workshops to our constituents.

What can you do?

  • If you know of any counseling needs in the community, recommend JFCS.
  • If you know of families or seniors in need of food, recommend JFCS.
  • If you know of resources that will help us continue to deliver our programs whether it is through food, funding, or technology, we welcome your help and support.
  • LAST BUT NOT LEAST… check in on your children, your parents, your elderly neighbors, your coworkers, your friends, and yourself.

Administrative staff will be available by phone to answer any questions Monday – Thursday 9 AM – 5 PM and Friday 9 AM – 4 PM. Please note effective March 23, the restrictions noted in our original posting remain in place indefinitely in accordance with local, state and national health and safety guidelines. 

JFCS is stretching our resources as far as possible at this time to ensure our current clients have the support they need, be it counseling, senior resources and food. We know this is just the beginning of a rise in need for our services. Help us be equipped to provide for as many as possible here in our community.

Consider a contribution today.