Addressing the Silent Epidemic: Food Insecurity in Mercer County

Guest Op-Ed Published in The Trentonian November 21, 2023

In the heart of New Jersey lies a shadowed reality that often goes unnoticed amidst our thriving communities—the silent epidemic of food insecurity. Mercer County, a region known for its cultural diversity and economic vitality, faces an escalating crisis that demands immediate attention.

As the Covid pandemic recedes, we are seeing the rapid spread of food insecurity across our region. Amidst our picturesque landscapes and vibrant neighborhoods, thousands of families grapple with the uncertainty of their next meal. Food insecurity, a multifaceted issue, extends its reach into the lives of increasing numbers of the vulnerable—the elderly, children, and working-class families struggling to make ends meet.

The magnitude of this crisis has been exacerbated by recent events, including soaring living costs, the end of pandemic relief programs, a lack of affordable housing, and unforeseen challenges facing many families.

Statistics paint a stark reality. Over 10% of Mercer County residents are food insecure, and they live in every part of our county. That means there is a 100% chance that someone who is hungry is your neighbor. The problem is even more acute in places like our Capital City where 27% of Trenton residents – and 37% of Trenton children – are living below the poverty line.

The face of hunger reflects the full range of diversity in our County. It’s children in our classrooms, unable to concentrate due to an empty stomach. It’s hardworking parents juggling bills and groceries, forced to make agonizing choices between nutrition and other necessities. It’s far too many senior citizens quietly battling hunger while living on a fixed income. These faces are more than just statistics. They are our neighbors, our family members, and our future.

The recent growth in food insecurity in Mercer County is unprecedented. Our organizations have been combatting food insecurity in Mercer County for decades, and we have never seen as many people seeking food assistance as we have in recent months. It’s traditional to focus concern on hunger at this time of year, but this is a continuing challenge that will be with us long after the holidays are over. Food insecurity like the chronic health conditions it can cause, has become chronic.

Our organizations are at the forefront of this crisis, attempting to meet the increasing need with dignity and compassion. Through our experience, we know what works. Our organizations offer nourishment, both through hot meals and food assistance. We provide pathways to self-sufficiency through education, housing, and workforce development. We measure our success not by the number of meals we serve or the amount of food assistance we provide, but by the number of people who no longer need our services.

New Jersey has taken important steps to support those facing hunger, including increasing benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), expanding food assistance programs, and creating the Office of the Food Security Advocate. We are grateful for this leadership by the State to address food insecurity.

The surging demand across Mercer County is outpacing these resources, highlighting the need for a comprehensive, community-driven approach. Our organizations have committed to work collaboratively to empower our communities and advance equity to reduce food insecurity throughout Mercer County. Only by developing a shared strategy and working in alignment can we achieve this ambitious goal. We hope to enlist support from corporate partners, foundations, and the broader community to invest in these innovative efforts.

The time to act is now. Mercer County is at a crossroads, and our response will define the future and the collective values of our community. The fight against food insecurity is not insurmountable but requires our unwavering commitment and concerted efforts.

That is why our organizations have pledged to work together to address this critical issue.  By standing together, advocating for change, and extending a hand to those in need, we can create a brighter, more nourished tomorrow for all.


Joyce E. Campbell, CEO of Trenton Area Soup Kitchen

Bernie Flynn, CEO of Mercer Street Friends

David Fox, Executive Director of Arm in Arm

Michelle Napell, Executive Director of Jewish Family & Children’s Services

Sarah Steward, CEO of HomeFront

Barrett Young, CEO of Rescue Mission of Trenton

Back-to-School Backpack Drive 2023


Now more than ever, let’s continue to help children in need start the school year off right.  We are in need of 250 sturdy backpacks to supply children as they 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.

3 Ways to Donate

  1. Order and ship supplies from your website of choice to 707 Alexander Rd, Suite 204 Princeton NJ 08540
  2. Drop off items in our donation bin inside the front door of: 707 Alexander Road, Suite 102, Princeton NJ 08540
  3. Purchase an gift card for us and we’ll take care of the shopping for you!

Consider purchasing a bundle to help us reach our goal:

2023 Annual Meeting, Mobilize for Broader Impact

Last night, JFCS was thrilled to host our 86th Annual Meeting, open to the community. We thank those who joined us in person to hear about our achievements of our past year, celebrate volunteers & community partners, and learn what is next for JFCS.

As we shared at the meeting, JFCS has adopted a five year strategic plan. In the next several years, our agency will Mobilize for Broader Impact.

The plan’s goals include…

Make JFCS services more readily accessible throughout the community.

Our mobile food pantry has demonstrated how important it is to bring vital resources directly to those who need help. Our goal encompasses the vision to bring our mental health and senior services out into the community. This includes establishing partnerships with area schools – to better reach youth with mental health resources; and having our care managers available at convenient locations for seniors, such as libraries and community centers.

Increase community participation and support.

We aim to increase participation with a wider network of individual and corporate volunteers and within our own Jewish community. 

Strengthen agency infrastructure to support strategic goals.

More than our physical space, JFCS recognizes that our staff is the heart of the organization. They proved they can deliver high-quality services, even when we were all working remotely. As we move forward, we will be investing in our team with increased education, professional development, and expansion.

We are looking forward to the journey and hope you join us in this next chapter. 


MAKE A DONATION TODAY– your gifts help us keep moving forward, together, and serving our community with Help, Hope & Healing.

GIVE THE GIFT OF YOUR TIME– volunteer, organize a food drive, learn how to become involved.

Thank you for being a part of the JFCS family.


Gemilut Chasadim Award Winners:
Fran and Matt Litchtenstein

Tzedakah Award Winner:
Susan & Fred Shandell

Kehillah Award Winner:
Mercer Street Friends

Gil Gordon Leadership and Volunteerism Award:
Ted Deutsch

8th Grade Mensch-in-Training: Mikaela Senders 12th Grade Mensch Award Winners: Cayla Lemkin Sam Winn

5 Year Anniversary
Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC and Helaine Isaacs

Passover Greetings, Nourishing the Soul

This past Monday, JFCS was fortunate to co-host* a Seder for seniors, including the local Holocaust Survivors we support. It was a beautiful event and the first time in several years we’ve been able to hold a Passover Seder in person for this group.
A few days prior, I was telling a friend about the event. She asked if she could attend as a volunteer, in her words “to feed her soul.” She was of course welcome – it is after all the Passover theme to “let all who are hungry, come and eat,” even if that nourishment is for the soul as much as the body.
This exchange had me reflecting on how fortunate I am to work in an environment that feeds my soul each and every day by seeing the staff at JFCS serve our community with compassion. We are serving thousands of individuals across the community, but it is the small, individual moments that stick with you…
Learning our staff member packed a few extra meals for a Kosher Meals on Wheels recipient who missed a delivery due to illness, wanting to ensure he had more than enough as he recovered.
Hearing a client leaving a counseling session in better spirits than when they arrived.
Seeing the relief on a senior client’s face after connecting with a care manager with new reassurance that they are not along in making big decisions.
Receiving a card of thanks, handmade by the children of a food pantry client, sharing their gratitude for our service keeping food on their family table.
I hope your holiday is filled with small moments of joy. May your soul be fed as you gather at your Seder table this Passover.
Chag Sameach,
Michelle Napell
Executive Director
*Seder was co-hosted with Golden Age Club of JCC Princeton Mercer Bucks and Abrams Camp. Event partially funded by the Jewish Federation Princeton Mercer Bucks. Our thanks to Adath Israel Congregation for use of their space to hold event.

What is mental health and why is it important for you?

What is mental health and why is it important for you?

Mental health is a way of thinking that affects your thoughts and actions. It helps determine how you handle stress and relate to others. It is important at every life stage, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Mental health is just as important as your physical health because poor mental health that is not looked after can lead to some chronic health conditions over time.

Can mental health change over time?

Your mental health can change over time and can depend on the resources available to you. An example of this could be an individual who is experiencing economic hardship. As a result of their situation, they can experience poor mental health.

What are some of the causes of a mental illness?

Some of the causes could be related to biological or genetic factors such as chemical imbalances in the brain. Some other causes could be early childhood traumas such as abuse, sexual assault or witnessing violence. Other factors that can lead to mental illnesses can be the excessive use of alcohol or drugs or feelings of prolonged isolation.

What is a stigma and how does it relate to mental illness?

A “stigma” is a set of negative and unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something. Stigma can arise from a lack of understanding or inaccurate information about mental illness. As a society, we have made strides towards trying to reduce the negative view of those with mental illness, however there is always more work that can be done.

How does one challenge mental health stigma?

The best way for you to prevent stigma is by speaking openly about mental health. Educating yourself on the mental illness and getting informed can help reduce stigma. Showing compassion to your family or friends who are suffering also helps. For many mental health disorders, therapy and psychiatry have proven to be effective in reducing stigma and achieving well-being.

Reach out to our intake coordinator at 609-987-8100 and dial 4 to inquire about speaking to a licensed therapist.

Elana Silverberg, MSW, Clinical Social Work Intern

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs help dial 988 for Mental Health Crisis and Suicide Prevention. Also, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) If the danger for self-harm seems immediate, call 911 right away. 

  • Talk to others and share your problems with a trained therapist, friend or doctor
  • Recognize when you need more help. If problems continue dial 988 for more help.
  • Monitor what children see and hear about stressful events in their lives
  • Listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings
  • Be on alert for any behavior changes
  • Reassure your child about their safety and well-being
  • Talk to other parents in the community and use them as support
  • Taking breaks from the news, social media can help calm down
  • Use self-care strategies such as healthy eating, getting proper sleep and exercise
  • Get involved in the community to prevent isolation
  • Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco and substance use

Tips for Parents to Focus on Kids’ Mental Health as They Head Back to School

Sometimes new routines and new schedules can exacerbate mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. This can be common when children and teenagers experience a change in their routines.

What are some ways to address these changes? 

For parents of small children, some ways to help your child’s back to school anxiety may include using a calm voice to reassure that their child is safe and protected. In addition, reinforcing routines can be helpful such as setting a realistic bedtime and selecting the next day’s clothes to wear. Arranging playdates with a familiar peer before school starts may help to lessen the anxiety.

For teens that are expressing anxiety about going back to school, listening to them can play an important role in supporting their mental and physical health. In addition, practicing breathing techniques can reduce stress. This can be taught by inhaling slowly through the nose, holding the breath for a count of four and then exhaling slowly.

If children or teens are experiencing ongoing anxiety, panic attacks or refusing to go to school, additional mental health support may be needed. A trained mental health professional can help your child or teen understand the root causes of the anxiety and help with coping skills.

Make sure you take your mental health and your child or teens mental health seriously.

by Elana Silverberg, MSW Intern

To speak with a member of our team, call 609-987-8100 or e-mail

September is Hunger Action Month! Everyone can help!

Shopping at the grocery store these days shows us how the inflation rate, at its highest in 40 years, is affecting our budgets. For our clients, the impact is even greater. In an effort to meet community needs, we encourage everyone to participate in Feeding America‘s Hunger Action Month this September.

In Mercer County, 1 in 12 individuals is estimated to be food insecure.  Our brick-and-mortar and mobile food pantries are seeing significantly increased demand and we are looking to you to help support our community.  It doesn’t take much effort or expense.  Here are some small ways to make a BIG impact.

How can YOU help during Hunger Action Month?

    • On your next grocery shop, pick up an extra item to donate.  We are always in need of Kosher healthy breakfast items like hot and cold cereal or oatmeal.
    • If dropping off food is difficult, monetrary contributions of any size are always accepted.  You can donate to the JFCS food pantries by visiting and add a note in the special instructions section directing your gift to support Hunger Action Month.
    • Have a home garden in your yard?  Fall is a great time to share fruits and veggies that ripen this time of year.  Discover how great it feels to share the FRUITS of your labor with the JFCS pantry.  Many community members have already started sharing their produce with our pantry – join them in providing for our clients.  To learn more about donating fresh produce, contact Lorena, Programming Assistant, Clinical & Hunger Prevention.
How can GROUPS help during Hunger Action Month?
    • Volunteer with family, friends or colleagues! Help pack bags at the JFCS pantry or provide support at a mobile pantry distribution.
    • Organize a community food drive! Collect non-perishable food or personal care items to donate from colleagues, friends or classmates.
    • Participate in a Shop & Stock!  Grab a Bingo card of needed groceries and fill the card and your cart with items to bring back to stock our food pantry.  Make it a competition and see who can find the best deals.
    • For more information about group opportunities, contact Eden, Coordinator of Volunteers and Community Programming.

From training wheels to racing wheels, how can EVERYONE get involved?

Participate in JFCS’ 2nd Annual Wheels for Meals bike ride on October 9th!  Funds raised support all JFCS food distribution programs including the brick-and-mortar and mobile food pantries and senior nutrition programs. With several route options for beginners to the most experienced cyclists, this ride has something for everyone! Not a rider?  Sponsor one or donate to the event.  Learn more and register to ride at!