COVID – 19 UPDATES

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COVID-19 Anniversary: Why We Look Back, How We Move Forward

“Remember how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be.” – Rick Warren

 

Why is it important to mark an anniversary?

Anniversaries – whether marking a wedding, a union, a birthday, a new job, or other significant milestone – are most often days of celebration. These occasions give us reason to celebrate and reflect on the previous year and how the event being celebrated has added to our lives.

Anniversaries can also mark more somber occasions, this could be the loss of a loved one, or even a larger event in our community or in history. Why is it equally important to mark the passage of time in respect to loss, heartache, or tragedy?

It is important to acknowledge that all significant events make us who we are. A marriage marks a new beginning, a new path forward, as much as losing a loved one can also define a new stage in life. Each experience becomes a part of your story.

Where we may take a wedding anniversary to reflect with our partner on the past year, or years, and reminisce about how the partnership has grown, when we reflect on the anniversary of a tragic event, it is an opportunity to recognize growth as well. What have you learned in facing a loss? How have you shown resilience? How have you learned to cope with grief, or sadness, or struggle?

To the end, any anniversary that you acknowledge has worth, you assign its worth simple by recognizing the event or day as an anniversary. And if there is value to you in that day, then there is value in the emotions and reflection that come with it.

In the coming weeks, we will be reaching the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold of our lives. On March 4, 2020 New Jersey officials announced the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in New Jersey; two short weeks later, the state entered a near-total quarantine lockdown that brought our lives to a halt.

What do we find by looking back?

The coronavirus outbreak impacted major aspects of our lives: working remotely at home, online education, and religious services. We had to get creative entertaining outdoors with a minimum number of family and friends staying six feet apart, drive-by birthday greetings and Zoom parties. Suddenly we were wearing face masks and washing our hands so often our skin became red, sore, and dry. Families were not able to visit loved ones in nursing facilities or attend to funeral rituals due to the need for social distancing. And travel was not happening.

Although none of us could have prepared for such a tragic period during our lifetime, there is value in recognizing the anniversary and in reflecting on what we have experienced in the past year.

There has certainly been much lost in the past year…

The start of school, graduations, weddings, funerals, sitting Shiva are all time-honored rituals and traditions that COVID severely disrupted. The lack of physical expression (hugs, kisses) has left a void in the way we process grief. A challenge during this time has been creating new rituals so we can partake in these significant occasions. Connecting on Zoom, social distance get-togethers, lawn signs to express congratulations to a graduate or celebrate a birthday demonstrate how resourceful and creative we have been establishing meaning to special events.

It is important to acknowledge our losses. Feeling sad is a normal part of grieving and it’s important to give yourself permission to be sad and to acknowledge the other emotions you might be feeling. Remember to take care of yourself, this could be sitting with a cup of tea listening to your favorite music, eating healthy, or journaling your thoughts and feelings.

Where there was loss, there was also gain…

Reflect on personal accomplishments – did you start a new hobby? Secure a new job? Spend more quality time with family? Learn a new skill? Prioritize your mental health?

Now, not all of us will emerge from this quarantine with a healthy sourdough starter on the counter, fully reorganized closets, filled with newly crocheted blankets, and that’s ok too. Simply getting through each day, maintaining your health, being able to move forward during this challenging time, that is an accomplishment to be proud of as well.

Beyond our personal spheres, there are positive takeaways to be found from the last year in how communities banded together to help the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Around the world folks came together to support their family, friends, and community by providing emotional and financial support, food, protective gear, and social justice.

Food drives were organized, masks hand-sewn and delivered to seniors, neighbors shopped for each other to keep crowds out of stores, we stood on balconies to applaud the herculean efforts of frontline workers, grassroots efforts launched food pantries and meal distributions across heavily impacted communities.

Looking for more inspiration? We can look at the global scale and celebrate that in the past year…

How do we look forward with hope?

We may feel as our lives are indefinitely paused because we don’t know how life will look after the pandemic, but we can have hope. Hope is a belief that things will get better, it is linked to the power of our mind and plays a vital role in giving us the benefit of emerging from adversity. This is not an opinion, it is science.

Hope takes away the burden of the present moment making it less difficult to bear. It helps us to believe in a better tomorrow. I am hopeful that you can be hopeful and look for that better tomorrow.​

JFCS Senior Services: Going the Extra Mile to “Be There” for Seniors, When We Can’t Be There

JFCS continues to provide an updated list of known vaccine sites on our COVID resource page. We are making every effort to keep the community up to date through the resource page with information available to us.

Our senior services team is working to connect our clients, specifically our senior clients and others who currently qualify for vaccine, to any available and known resources.

Anxieties are reaching a peak level amongst the older adults in our community as the state-wide scramble for vaccine appointments drags on. For members of JFCS Secure@Home and Senior Outreach Service (SOS) programs, there is some solace found in the dedication and compassion of our geriatric care managers.

Our senior service team is going above and beyond for our Secure@Home members and senior clients. We know many older adults are facing challenges securing a vaccine timeslot. For Secure@Home members, the 24/7 support and hard work of our team of geriatric care managers has been the difference between getting a timeslot and not. Members of the program regular updates from the care managers about all available vaccine resources. The up-to-date information has helped many of our program members be connected with vaccine distribution sites and confirm appointments.

During the past year, when many seniors were more isolated and distanced from loved ones than ever before, our senior services team ensured they never felt alone. Whether it was a friendly check-in needed, or finding a volunteer to help with groceries, or helping find and secure COVID-19 tests or vaccine appointments, our care managers were there for our members. The team continues to respond to the immediate needs of seniors with each wave of challenges during the pandemic.

“I keep thinking how many thanks I’m feeling for getting that [registration] link to me. I almost lost an appointment within the next few weeks but was able to book one thanks to your quick action!”

Secure@Home Member

“You both put the arms of angels around me this morning. Thank you for helping me find an appointment for today. Sunny day. Easy trip. Very, Very well-organized site. Date for next vaccine set.”

Senior Outreach Service (SOS) Client

“I am emailing to commend Beth Hammer for her extraordinary efforts to get vaccination appointments for me and other Secure@Home members. She has done far more than what I would expect her to do. And it has worked. Thank you for having such a dedicated and determined staff member!”

Secure@Home Member

Our geriatric care managers are here to help you and your loved ones by providing an umbrella of services to promote healthy aging and “aging in place.”  Full Secure@Home membership benefits include care management, assessment, 24/7 emergency phone availability, information & referral, transportation options, monthly hellos and more. Geriatric care consultations and care management can also be provided at an hourly rate if you are not yet in need of full-time support but as-needed care.

When it can be difficult to find peace of mind, our Secure@Home team is providing comfort and solace to seniors during this pandemic and beyond. If you want to learn more about Secure@Home and our senior support programs, contact our team at 609-987-8100 Ext 203.

Spotlight on Volunteers: From Youth Programming to Volunteering

Our new monthly feature – Volunteer Spotlight – will share testimonials direct from our incredible volunteers. JFCS Volunteers are critical to our delivery of core programs and services, providing everything from delivery of Kosher Meals on Wheels, to helping at Mobile Food Pantry distributions, and making friendly calls to isolated seniors.

Lucian Chown – An Interview with our February Volunteer Spotlight…

What made you reach out to JFCS to volunteer?

I’ve always been inspired by the great local work of JFCS. When I came back to New Jersey to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to give back to the community in a time of need. I loved being a part of the Jewish Community Youth Foundation (JCYF) as a teenager where Celeste Albert introduced my class to many non-profits whose missions were enhanced by our getting to know their organization and making a contribution to sustain them. Delivering for Kosher Meals on Wheels is a great way to get out of the house during a time when we’re all stuck inside, and it makes me happy to help those individuals who aren’t able to leave home.

What do you enjoy about being on our volunteer team?  

Each week, I feel such eager anticipation as I prepare to deliver meals to those on my route in East Windsor and Twin Rivers. Eden Aaronson is a joy and she makes it easy for volunteers like me to pack my car with meals and get back in time for my afternoon work meetings. Sometimes, recipients are waiting by their door for their delivery, other times they wave and smile from their window. I’m glad my actions make a difference; I only wish I had the opportunity to meet and get to know those on my route – perhaps post-pandemic.

How long have you been volunteering in the Princeton area?

I’ve been volunteering since I was ten years old. As a family, we raised and trained puppies for The Seeing Eye of New Jersey, a true family affair. 

Are you a volunteer at other agencies?

Yes! I volunteer with the Greater Trenton Jewish Cemetery Project, a local animal shelter, my university’s alumni ambassador program, and will be part of the Nexus leadership program for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington (DC) .

Do you plan to continue volunteering with JFCS into the future?

Of course! I love the work that JFCS does for the Jewish community and the community at-large.

Have you had any impressionable moments with clients while you were working for JFCS that you’d like to share?

Because of COVID-19, I don’t get to interact with clients, though one man shouts his thanks through the door each week. That always makes me smile! 

Mobile Food Pantry Delivers on Promise of Help, Hope and Healing

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County never anticipated just how vital mobility would become in the inaugural year of the Mobile Food Pantry. After one full year on the road, the mobile pantry has benefited 17,877 individuals across Mercer County through 140 distributions.

The mobile pantry program launched in late January 2020, with the first distributions made through February and early March. In mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the community and JFCS pivoted plans in line with the changing needs.

“The world shifted, and we were ready,” says Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director. “When everyone was scrambling to keep their shelves stocked in the early days of the pandemic, and the most vulnerable populations – seniors, low-income communities – were hit even harder, our Mobile Food Pantry was there to fill a growing need.”

Planning for Everything, Then Pivoting for a Pandemic

The Mobile Food Pantry was designed to bring the choice experience of the JFCS on-site pantry on the road. However, during the pandemic, the process has been modified in line with health and safety regulations. Bags are pre-packed with non-perishable pantry staples as well as frozen and fresh meat, cheese and produce. JFCS mobile pantry staff work with each distribution partner to deliver the bags in a way that works best for their constituents – at some locations, clients pickup directly from the mobile pantry with organized waiting areas to maintain social distance, and other locations have the JFCS team drop off all bags to one designated site coordinator who handles distribution to the clients.

“While we have not been able to utilize the choice model of the pantry, we have worked to find ways to add extra value through our current delivery model,” says Taryn Krietzman, RDN, Pantry Coordinator. “Each month, I prepare a nutritious and simple recipe using pantry basics and seasonal fresh items we are able to include in the bags. Recently, we have also included information about where to find COVID-19 testing and vaccination information and sites.”

The world shifted, and we were ready…in the early days of the pandemic, and the most vulnerable populations – seniors, low-income communities – were hit even harder, our Mobile Food Pantry was there to fill a growing need.

Michelle Napell

Executive Director

It has been inspiring to grow this network of support with other agencies committed to our same goals of help, hope and healing.

Beth Englezos

Manager of Hunger Prevention

Growing a Network of Support Across Mercer County

Distribution partners for the mobile pantry range from churches, to low-income housing for seniors and families, to housing for adults with disabilities, to schools, to community organizations, with new partners being added each month.

“In the midst of such challenging times, it has been inspiring to grow this network of support with other agencies committed to our same goals of help, hope and healing,” said Beth Englezos, JFCS Manager of Hunger Prevention. “Through strong partnerships, we have been able to reach even more residents of Mercer County.”

The mobile pantry had a planned roll out of two distributions per week. When demand quickly spiked in the early stages of the pandemic, the distribution schedule ramped up to meet the needs.

“The speed at which the program grew was directly attributable to the immediate and severe impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities,” said Englezos. “Our plan was to average two stops per week over the first year as we developed a network of partners and refined our process. We are regularly on the road 3 – 4 times each week, and our network continues to grow.”

The Power of Community in a Crisis

“One of the main goals of the mobile pantry is reaching people in their communities who are not able to get to our pantry or other resources in the area. However, there are still many homebound clients within these communities. 

There is a gentleman at one of our client pick-up stops who volunteers as a helpful neighbor and brings groceries directly to the doors of people who are not able to make it down to the Mobile Food Pantry. We get as close as we can, but he goes the extra mile.” 

Taryn Krietzman, RDN, Pantry Coordinator

“We can’t thank you enough for the work JFCS does for our families. You should know that you make a direct and positive impact to our students’ and families’ well-being and we are very grateful for your generosity and good will.  We count ourselves extremely lucky to work alongside JFCS.”

Elizabeth Gura, M.S., School Counselor, Millstone River School

What you are doing is directly impacting the community and together we are doing the work. Thank you again and again for help!

Taylor Block, Panther Pantry, Paul Robeson Charter School

Preparing for the Road Ahead

In addition to an increased delivery schedule, the mobile pantry fleet also grew. In November, JFCS purchased a van, now names Poppy’s Pantry. The van purchase was funded by a private family foundation in memory of Stuart “Poppy” Plotkin.

“The second vehicle allows us to reach even further into the community by accommodating distributions of all sizes and giving us more flexibility when picking up donations from local food drives or other supplies,” said Napell.

JFCS remains poised to adapt the mobile pantry program in the coming months as the situation surrounding COVID-19 evolves.

“First and foremost, we remain committed to providing nutrient-rich foods to the community. We hope to return to a choice model as soon as possible as it provides not only a sense of autonomy and empowerment to those we serve, but also reduces waste, when clients can select items they know their family enjoys,” says Krietzman. “In the short term, we have started to vary protein options offered to clients and allow them to make those selections at distributions sites which allow for this interaction. One by one, we will return more choices to the hands of the clients.”

“The pandemic has brought to light the severity of existing need right here in our Mercer community; many of those we serve were in vulnerable positions even before the pandemic,” says Napell. “We are ready to adapt with each phase and will be here for our entire community on the long road back to ‘normal.’ ”

Learn more about our Mobile Food Pantry…

Follow our journey on Facebook and Instagram to see where in the (Mercer) world our mobile fleet is week after week!

Have you hit the wall? Feeling exhausted by uncertainty, isolation, fear?

We are all dealing with the ongoing impact of the pandemic, some of us more than others. Even as the vaccine brings hope, we now face the frustrating process of registering for the vaccine – scouring websites, making phones calls, seeking new resources and information. After wave after wave of challenges, many of us are at the breaking point.

To combat the potential spiral into frustration and anxiety, first, recognize there is only so much we can control – this makes us human, but not powerless. What can we control? We can acknowledge our feelings, we can show ourselves kindness and compassion. Compassion for oneself is no different than compassion for others. Instead of pushing aside pain, concerns, anxieties, pause and tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now.’ Then ask, ‘how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?’

Let’s walk through a simple Self-Compassion Practice that can help build mental and emotional resilience…

The following exercise is from resilience expert Linda Graham for shifting our awareness and bringing acceptance to the experience of the moment. It helps to practice this self-compassion break when any emotional distress is still reasonably manageable, through practice, you can create and strengthen the neural circuits that can do this shifting and re-conditioning when things are really tough.

When you notice a surge of difficult emotion – boredom, anger, stress – pause. Put your hand over your heart (this activates the release of oxytocin, the hormone of safety & trust)

Empathize with your experience. Say to yourself “this is upsetting” or “this is hard!” or “this is scary” or even, “ouch, this hurts!”

Repeat one or more of these phrases, or try a variation that works for you…

May I be kind to myself in this moment.

May I accept this moment exactly as it is.

May I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment.

May I give myself all the compassion I need.

These simple mantras break the negative thought loops.

Continue repeating the phrases until you can feel the internal shift – the compassion and kindness and care for yourself becoming stronger than the original negative emotion.

Uncertain times mean navigating changes in your life that you cannot control.

They may mean doing things differently, even reaching out for help — that’s part of being resilient, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

If you need additional support, reach out to JFCS at 609-987-8100.

An Introduction to Meditation

Meditation has gained a lot of attention as we all continue to see methods of relaxation and self care in the midst of these challenging times. Linda Kanner, one of our licensed clinical social workers, takes us through an Introduction to Meditation and the most common methods of meditation including Mindfulness Meditation, Movement Meditation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Visualization Meditation and Guided Meditation. Also included are tips and resources for how to get started.

How do we heal?

Healing, one of our agency’s three core values, is derived from the Jewish value Tikkun Olam.

Tikkun Olam – Healing the World, the concept can seem overwhelming in the best of times, for as much as we try, there is always healing needed.

Where do we even begin?

First, we must be sure we heal from within. We must prioritize our own mental health and well-being before looking to give of ourselves to others. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup.

Then we look outward, we lend a helping hand – a mitzvah, a good deed. That act of kindness, gemilut hasadim, lends itself to another, then another. We all find inspiration in stories of “paying it forward,” continuing the good deeds.

When help is given…to an individual when kindness is shown to them during a personal crisis; to a family when neighbors rally together for them; to a community when we put the needs of our collective over our individual gains…there we find hope.

And when we have developed an emphasis on helping others, when we have sparked hope through united service for each other, that is where we start healing.

These small steps begin to heal, to repair our “world.” We then challenge ourselves to broaden who is considered our community, expanding the boundaries of our world, and together we will repair, restore, and heal.

Spotlight on Volunteers: Father-Son Dynamic Duo Delivers During Pandemic

Our new monthly feature – Volunteer Spotlight – will share testimonials direct from our incredible volunteers. JFCS Volunteers are critical to our delivery of core programs and services, providing everything from delivery of Kosher Meals on Wheels, to helping at Mobile Food Pantry distributions, and making friendly calls to isolated seniors.

Les & Ben Seifer

My son, Ben, and I form the perfect “dynamic duo” as we travel about Mercer County delivering meals to a wide assortment of JFCS clients. He drives and I navigate (with help from Waze). We have both been blessed in many ways and are happy to do our little bit to help the elderly and others who, even without a pandemic, find it hard to get out and about. We truly believe that though we cannot save the world, we can help save a little piece of it here in New Jersey. Plus, everyone at JFCS is extraordinarily cheerful and dedicated which makes the volunteer experience something we look forward to each week.

Ben, who also volunteers at the Plainsboro Public Library, learned about JFCS from me. I learned about the agency while volunteering at Cornerstone Community Kitchen at the United Methodist Church in Princeton. Every Wednesday at that church (pre-pandemic), a hot meal is served to about one hundred people. There is also a food pantry where attendees can “shop” for various donated foods. One Wednesday, JFCS came by and contributed a huge amount of groceries and that’s where I learned about their services. During the pandemic we have limited ourselves to just handing out hot meals and bags of groceries and produce, and JFCS has been there every week without fail with first-rate fruits and other healthy items.

The clients we support always greet us cheerfully when we make our deliveries.  On a recent miserable cold rainy day, I handed an elderly woman her meals and she said, “Wait… I have a little something for you.” Thinking she was going to try and give me a tip, or perhaps some cookies, I told her it was not at all necessary. She then handed me a plastic bag of garbage and asked me if I could drop it in the dumpster since she was unable to get out. Did I take it? Of course! We are making a difference each day, and providing that vitual social interaction and simply “check-in” on seniors who are feeling exceptionally isolated.

In a time when it can feel many people act only in service of themselves, it is rewarding to both Ben and I to see such generosity and compassion. We look forward to continuing to play a part.

Are you feeling quarantine depression? How to combat fatigue, stress, and other signs of depression

Quarantine depression is part of our new daily vocabulary along with masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer. This quarantine depression and fatigue is different from clinical depression because the feelings are brought on by the circumstances of the pandemic, whereas clinical depression can happen for a variety of reasons and does not have an external cause, can be chronic and persistent. 

What can quarantine depression look like?

  • Feeling fatigued even when you haven’t engaged in physical activity or upon waking
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Feeling “on edge” or having difficulty dealing with normal life stressors
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Lack of interest in maintaining relationships, even over virtual methods, such as text, email, and video calling

Tips and Strategies to Manage Quarantine Depression:

  • Do something each day, it doesn’t have to be a lofty goal, anything is better than nothing and you will find pleasure in checking something off your list.
  • Exercise. Go outdoors for a walk, ride your bike, or sit on the porch; the benefits of the fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun can help to boost your mood.
  • Meditation. The psychological benefits of meditation are wide ranging: heightened creativity, decreased stress and anxiety, decreased irritability, improved memory and even increased happiness and emotional stability.
  • Listen to music. It has been proven scientifically that listening to your favorite music improves your mood. 
  • Practice self-compassion. Turn off that critical dialogue, what we say to ourselves influences everything; start using supportive, encouraging words.
  • Focus on what you can do and accept the things you cannot change.
  • Keep a daily gratitude journal; this will help you appreciate the positives which can help reduce stress.
  • Stay connected. Even though we cannot be physically together, make that phone call, write an email or letter, send a text to check in with your friends and family.

A licensed therapist can help you identify the causes of your depression and provide the necessary support to help improve your quality of life. Reach out to JFCS

  • During our Drop-in Hours (Mon, Wed, Fri 10 AM – 12 PM or Tues, Thurs 5 – 7 PM) call 609-987-8100 Dial 0
  • Connect with our intake coordinator for ongoing counseling at 609-987-8100 Ext 102, we are currently providing therapy via phone and video calls

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