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

How to Return to Work Post-Pandemic

As restrictions start to ease, more and more employees are returning to the workplace, no doubt with anxious feelings, questions, and possible concerns. Feeling dread and uncertainty is perfectly normal…

Will my co-workers be wearing masks?

Will we maintain social distancing?

How will we readjust to being away from home where it has been safe while quarantining for the past year?

First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge that it is normal to feel anxious right now, we went from working remotely to avoid groups of people to an accelerated reopening of the state. It is going to take time to adjust and be comfortable in this re-entry process; the following strategies may help managing back to work anxiety:

Take time to visit the workplace prior to returning to work. This may help reduce the anticipatory anxiety and stress you are feeling. Often the more we avoid a situation, the harder it can be to return to it.

Recognize what makes you feel safe and comfortable at home and try to translate that into your work environment.

Practice mindfulness – do a body scan from head to toe; mentally scanning yourself, you bring awareness to every single part of your body, noticing any aches, pains, tension, or general discomfort.

Visualization – form peaceful and inspiring pictures in your mind; imagine yourself succeeding in feeling calm and relaxed in your work environment.

Progressive muscle relaxation – practicing progressively tightening and then relaxing the muscles of your body can help you learn to better control the tension.

Challenge anxious thoughts – ask yourself if you are being realistic, are you thinking the worst-case scenario? Challenge these thoughts with more realistic ones to calm your feelings of anxiety.

Take one day at a time; do what needs to get done today and take care of tomorrow when it comes, tomorrow.

If you continue to worry about returning to the workplace, contact JFCS during daily drop-in hours to discuss other techniques that may be helpful. 609-987-8100.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC

Re-entering Society after COVID-19: Understanding Our Thoughts & Emotions

Almost one year ago, I had to face the challenges of returning to work from family medical leave. At the time I was facing a range of emotions while not only dealing with that reality, but the return to a “new normal” of working remotely.

We have all made significant adjustments to our lives in the past year. Adapting to life during a global pandemic was difficult; now that vaccines are widely available, we are still facing challenges about our personal comfort levels being in the community and returning to work.

Thoughts you may be having, emotions you may be feeling, and answers you may be searching for…

Should I feel safe because I am not sure I do?

 I feel safe but the people around me don’t.

What is the right decision for my family and I?

My friends are comfortable, why aren’t I?

I am not comfortable being around friends and family who are not vaccinated how do I handle the stress?

My thoughts are going a mile a minute!

The truth is there is no right or wrong answer. This decision is an individualized choice. No one can tell you how you should feel or act. Everyone has different comfort levels and that is okay. It is important to not compare our self to others.

What can we do?

Establish and be consistent with your boundaries. Be kind and have compassion toward yourself. Go at your own pace. Take some therapeutic deep breaths. Stay hydrated and maintain balance with your nutrition and physical activity. If you are having trouble sleeping due to the many thoughts you are having listen to a guided sleep meditation – there are options available on Headspace and Calm sites/apps.

If your anxiety seems to be too challenging to manage on your own, please contact JFCS Clinical Department to have a licensed professional assist you at 609-987-8100.

Mara Myerson, LCSW, LCADC

Shavout Reflection and Recipes

Shavuot/ May 16 (evening)-May 18 (evening), 2021

Passover begins the Jewish historical year cycle with our freedom from slavery in Egypt. Fifty days later Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost) celebrates God’s giving of the Ten Commandments (also seen as the entire Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew bible) to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, At this time, we entered into a covenant, based on Divine law, that we observe and renew to this day, thus giving purpose to our freedom.

Shavuot began in the Bible as an agricultural pilgrimage festival (like Sukkot and Passover) but its significance is much greater.  Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of everyone in every generation standing at Sinai, just as everyone of every generation relives the escape from slavery in Egypt at the Passover seder. One of the major traditions of Shavuot is that of all-night study (Tikkun Layl Shavuot), to provide each individual person direct access to Jewish from the Bible and other sources. We read the Biblical Book of Ruth at this time because Ruth, as a convert, entered into her own personal relationship with God and the Jewish people. In a similar way, many Liberal congregations hold Confirmation services for students who are approximately three years past their Bar/Bat Mitzvah,  reflecting ongoing commitment to Jewish learning.

Shavuot also is a time of great rejoicing, both in community in the synagogue and at home. Ashkenazi tradition includes the eating of dairy foods, such as blintzes and cheese cake, because the Torah is likened to milk and honey.  Sephardic communities have more elaborate Shavuot dishes many of which also involve cheese but in different forms such as special rice and cheese pies and Turkish-style rice pudding (sutlatch). 

 

A Blessing for Kindness on Shavuot, by Devon Spier 

Between those who have much and those who have little, let us sprinkle kindness like grain seeds.

And let our kindness burst forth like a bountiful harvest.

Growing, life-giving, and available to every single one who seeks nourishment from the field. 

And if we should find our self standing across from a stranger, or if we should happen to be a stranger in the company of one who is not, may we rise to meet the other with love in our hearts and the wholesomeness of good deeds.

And may our kindness sustain our selves and each other through this and every season of life.

Recipes:

Sutlach

Mediterranean Shavout Recipes

Traditional Shavout Foods

Beyond Blintz – A Culinary Tour of Shavout

MORE Shavout Recipes

 Please note that the JFCS offices will be closed in observance of the holiday on Monday, May 17 and Tuesday, May 18. 

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

Moving Past the Pandemic: A New Anxiety

One year ago, the World Health Organization reported the COVID 19 virus as a global pandemic and the world changed. Requirements for social distancing, wearing a mask and staying at home, for most, resulted in anxiety. Most of us experienced fear and worry about contacting or spreading the virus; gradually, routines developed, and we cautiously adjusted, still with a good amount of stress.

One year later, as the vaccine rollout quickens, and more and more people are getting vaccinated many folks are having conversations about different fears. A survey released last month by the American Psychological Association found that 49% of adults feel uneasy about returning to in-person interactions once the pandemic is over. Vaccination status did not affect the responses – 48% of those who have already been vaccinated say they, too, feel uncomfortable with in-person interactions.

​These concerns are understandable. In the past year, we have heard over and over that home is the safest place, so feeling anxious about the prospect of being with people outside our “pod” or in larger gatherings is perfectly normal.

Returning to in person interactions while the pandemic is still ongoing is yet another transition.  For those who struggled with anxiety before the pandemic, the anticipation of an impending return to something like normalcy is cause for apprehension. For most, this adjustment will not be easy. Coping skills can help you tolerate, minimize, and deal with stressful situations and managing your stress will help you feel better physically and psychologically.

Coping Skills & Strategies

Review this list to see what might work best for you. It is good practice to implement skills in preparation of confronting changes as you re-engage with social activities.

  • Acknowledge feeling symptoms of stress – anxiety; feeling concerned, irritated, angry; having trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Gradually resume activities – set small goals, for example, meet a friend for coffee at an outdoor cafe
  • Practice communicating boundaries – saying no if you are not comfortable with an activity
  • Plan and think ahead – is there anything that could make you feel uncertain in this situation?
  • Buddy up – get together with a friend and support each other through the process
  • Stay focused on what is within your control
  • Practice mindfulness techniques
  • Develop daily encouraging mantras – they will keep you mentally strong
  • Exercise/keep active
  • Good sleep hygiene

Anxiety can become a problem that interferes with your daily life.

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

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC

Reducing Social Anxiety & Promoting Re-Engagement in Children (Pandemic Re-Entry)

For many children, who may have struggled with feeling comfortable when interacting with others pre-pandemic, having had a year of significantly reduced social interactions may have felt like a relief.  However, currently with schools, businesses, and public places re-opening many children are dealing with increased social difficulties as the pandemic eliminated any outside contact with others other than their immediate family members.  The five tips below may help to support your child with increased reengagement skills and reduced social anxiety.  

Talk openly about what social anxiety is with your child.

Explain to your child that children struggling with social anxiety may fear social situations that involve interacting with others (i.e. peers, teachers, adults) when in school, public or when attending gatherings. Children with social anxiety may experience negative thoughts and/or fears that others are judging or having negative beliefs about them. Talking to your child and normalizing their feelings of anxiety after being in quarantine, and expressing that their feelings are normal, is vital. To normalize their feelings, talk to your child about your own experiences with anxiety and how you overcame them.

Schedule time for your child to interact others.

Schedule time with friends and close family members via Facetime or Zoom – making sure to encourage your child’s use of the camera when on video calls to promote face-to-face interaction with others. (Should your child struggle with not feeling comfortable with using the camera, you may allow the use of audio only calls initially). However, efforts should be made to successfully achieve video face-to-face interaction with use of the camera feature, in order to work on strengthening social connections and reduce social anxiety.

Provide encouragement and support to your child

Provide encouragement and support to your child with attention on acceptance and sensitivity, making sure to avoid use of judgment, being critical, or showing frustration with your child. Help your child to identify, label, and express their emotions. Children will at times not be successful in achieving their socialization goals. It is difficult for children to face their fears, be sure to validate their feelings, talking to your child at their eye level and validating their emotions is critical for their successful reintegration with others. Utilize language such as, “I see this is hard for you, we can work on this together,” rather than “Why can’t you do it?” or “Why can you be like your sister/cousin they can interact with other kids?”

Encourage outdoor experiences and activities.

Encourage and support your child to increase his/her time engaging in outside experiences and activities. You may support your child by being available to visit a local park, leaving the house for some ice cream, playing a sport with your child on the driveway or front street, and/or visiting the grocery store will allow your child to have gradual exposures to being around others, while still practicing social distancing and wearing their mask.

Support your child with coping skills.

Support your child with the development and implementation of social anxiety coping skills. Skills that can help in reducing your child’s social anxiety include the following strategies: timed breathing skills such as, square breathing which involves creating a mental image of a square box, inhaling from your nose for a count of four, holding air in your lungs for a count of four, exhaling from your mouth for a count of four and holding your breathe for a count of four, (see a guided video here). The square breathing sequence can be repeated three times to receive the best results with reduced anxiety. Another skill to reduce anxiety is the use of a grounding skill using your five senses, where you can have your child locate and explore – 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell and 1 thing they can taste. This exercise intercepts anxiety producing thoughts and helps your child to be present in their space. (see guided video here).

Arlene Munoz, LSW

Older Americans Month 2021: Communities of Strength

The Administration for Community Living (ACL) is pleased to announce that the theme of Older Americans Month (OAM) 2021 is Communities of Strength. Older adults have built resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys, and difficulties. Their stories and contributions help to support and inspire others.

In May, ACL will celebrate the strength of older adults and the Aging Network, with special emphasis on the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities.

There are many things we all can do to nurture ourselves, reinforce our strength, and continue to thrive. Connecting with others is one of the most important—it plays a vital role in our health and well-being, and in that of our communities.

From finding joy in small things and sharing our stories, to looking at the big picture and giving to others, ACL will promote the ways we are connected and strong. Join us in encouraging people of all ages to celebrate their communities and community members.

As an intern at JFCS, I have had the privilege of interacting with our senior clients during the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout a period of isolation, uncertainty, and fear, I have seen firsthand the resilience and positivity of older Americans. Whether I was assisting Senior Outreach Service (SOS) participants with the COVID vaccine pre-registration process, forming bonds with the Holocaust survivors through weekly check-in calls and Café Europa Zoom events, or delivering groceries to Healthy@Home clients, I have appreciated the opportunity to connect with older adults and learn about their life stories. My time at JFCS has taught me that older adults shape the communities they belong to by contributing wisdom, gratitude, and strength to those around them. As a young adult, I have benefited greatly from my relationships with JFCS’ older clients and will apply the lessons I have learned to my future career and personal life. This Older Americans Month, let us celebrate the invaluable role that older adults play in our communities.

Emmanuelle Farrell, MSW Intern

Spotlight on Volunteers: Making Connections in a Distanced World

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.

Matt Erman 

I first reached out to JFCS to volunteer in October. After seeing how people throughout our community have been stepping up and helping each other through this trying time, I wanted to try to do my part in whichever way possible. 

Since starting to volunteer with JFCS, the greatest part has been the people I interact with through the Kosher Meals on Wheels and Senior Shopper programs. When you get to see the same people each and every week, you get to really know them, and a simple food drop off can often turn into a fifteen minute conversation.

I had been volunteering in the Mercer County area since middle school, but since coming back from college in March 2020, JFCS has been the only organization I have worked with.

I will be going to law school at the end of August, but until then I plan on working with JFCS and to continue delivering meals and groceries!

Each week, I deliver groceries to a senior in East Windsor. Whenever I talk to her, be it on the phone when she is giving me her list, or when I drop off the groceries at her house, our conversations are never short. Over the past months, we have become a fixture in each other’s lives – she asks about my sister or how my law school search has been going, and I ask about her grandkids and her friends. The people have been my favorite part of working with JFCS, and interacting with Iris is definitely something I look forward to each week.