Handling the Holidays in Time of Crisis When You Are Grieving

We are all dealing with grief now—loss of normalcy; loss of connection; fear of economic toll, nervous anticipation of the future. For those in our community who are mourning the loss of a loved one, the grief is intense and even more isolating because we do not have the traditional community supports to provide some sense of stability. As holiday times approach, the Empty Chair has become the Empty Table and the Empty Room. What are some tools that can give you the support you need?

A VERY IMPORTANT REMINDER:  Everyone experiences grief in his/her own way. There is no right or wrong. Give yourself permission to do whatever feels right, and please be gentle with yourself.

Suggestions for Handling the Holidays:

  • Nothing is normal for anyone this year. Think about what has helped you since the loss of your loved one; don’t do what you think you should but what feels right to you.
  •  Connect, connect, connect—to your friends, your family, your community (of faith or otherwise).  Take advantage of technology old and new:  telephone calls, email, text, Facetime, Skype or Zoom.  JFCS will provide resources for virtual Passover seders, as well as other services and celebrations, in a future post.
  • Tell your family and friends what you need, whether or not they ask. Don’t be shy—this is not a time for false reticence, you ARE strong but you still need others for support and help.
  • Think of rituals that have meaning for you and turn to them as often as necessary—these can relate to the holiday or not. There won’t be a big family meal this year (that would have raised other issues for you as you grieve), but you can make dishes that you love or that bring back happy memories. You can share recipes, perhaps using technology as you go about your preparations, or sing songs together or tell stories of holidays past. Or you can do none of the above.
  • Turn to prayers or readings from the holiday that have special meaning for you. Repeat them as often as needed for consolation.
  • Sing special songs relating to the holiday as you wash your hands (for 20 seconds). In fact, listen to or make music as much as you can. Music leads to activity in multiple parts of the brain where we process emotion, memory, awareness, and attention. It can help short-circuit sadness by using these brain areas to bring up happy emotions and joyful memories as we tune our attention to the song. We also know that music can bring strong emotions and heartfelt tears to the surface, which can help us process the complex emotions we are experiencing at this time.

NOTE:  Memories, with their sweetness and their pain, are important tools for healing. You know that your loved one will never be forgotten. Relationships don’t end with death but, with time, they will become transformed. And there is nothing wrong with crying.

  • Breathe.  Focus on all five of your senses, perhaps with particular reference to the upcoming holiday.  The sweet smell of a favorite food, the texture of special clothing, tablecloths or a reclining pillow, the sight or feeling of one small item related to the holiday that warms your heart, the clink of glasses of wine. Memories of holidays past will, of course, be painful without your loved one.   Try to access the positive ones.
  • This is the time for spring holidays, with their connection to nature. Go outside as much as possible, if you can. Savor the sights of flowering trees or plants. Smell the smell of fresh green grass. Move your weary muscles. Remember that we are all part of the cycle of life.

Beverly Rubman, Chaplain

Daily Webinar Alert: Impact of COVID-19 on Medical Decision Making

JFCS continues to gather important resources for dealing with the impact of COVID-19. We are sharing the below information for an outside resource:

Daily 30-minute Webinar available at 1 PM EST Monday-Friday (through April 24)

“Impact of COVID-19 on Medical Decision Making: POLST and Other Important Considerations for High-Risk People” Hosted by Dr. David Barile, Palliative and Geriatric Physician, Founder & Chief Medical Officer Goals of Care Coalition of New Jersey

The purpose of the webinar is to help educate people and address their questions regarding POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) and advance directives for the populations at high-risk for complications of COVID-19 (e.g., nursing home residents, frail elders, people with compromised immune systems and underlying medical concerns) and their surrogate decision makers or healthcare proxies.  Dr. David Barile will explain what a POLST is, why it is an important document, how to complete the form, and under what circumstances someone should have one.  Each session is followed by a Q & A period. Once registered, you can submit your questions.

 To register, go to goalsofcare.org 

In-Home Activities for Kids

From current school closings to the shutdown of public, entertainment spaces, parents are facing the challenge of filling the hours of the day for their children. Schools have been doing everything possible to provide meaningful remote instruction, but these can leave hours of the day open for children. On the warmer days we’ve enjoyed, for those with backyards or a local park (that is still open) it has been easier. However, even then, there is more time in the day. Help your children avoid excessive screen time during the current restrictive conditions with one of the activities below. Having fun, recreational time together is important to all members of the family especially during these challenging times.


Try Cosmic Kids or Gaiam (Youtube)

Down Dog App Can download it to your device and they also have High Intensity Interval Training and Barre classes for parents and children.


Art for Kids Hub This online tool allows a child to draw along with the instructor and there are hundreds of themes.

The Arts Council of Princeton has introduced an online program titled apART together

DIY.org offers thousands of courses and projects. Most offerings are free and many are doable with simple supplies like markers, paper and glue.

36 Elementary Art Lessons


Book Creator Create an account for free for 90 days!

Access the Virtual Branch of Mercer County Libraries for access to e-Books and other online content

Check out eLibraryNJ for even more virtual content


Mystery Science offers free science lessons for ages K – 5


Line Riders videos provide wonderful classical music with a fun visual cue to help children understand how music flows. To push this one further, on your own, ask your child to move up and down (arm movements encouraged!) to the rise and fall of the music.

UpToTen.com includes games and songs and use this site to search for more related sites.

CreatingMusic.com is for elementary-age students to explore, create and manipulate music.

If you’re missing Hebrew School, try the Alef Bet Bullseye app for 1st – 3rd graders or the Tefillah Tuner app for pre-bar mitzvah aged children

Do not underestimate the power of a FaceTime session with a child’s friend. Try and set up a few of these each week. Having connection to their peers can make a big difference in your child’s ability to focus on the positive and their schoolwork!

Definitely try to set up a few of these each week, they will make a big difference in your child’s ability to focus on the positive as well as on their online schoolwork!

Claire Brown, LSW

Practicing Self Care

Para español

Right now many of us are feeling overwhelmed, worried and concerned about the uncertainty of the global health scare, and that makes a lot of sense. Sometimes feeling as though you’re not alone in your anxiety can be helpful; it brings us closer in spirit to our communities, it motivates us to support each other in new ways and it reminds us of our humanity. However, this increased anxiety can have harmful effects as well. To help us all navigate though these confusing times, below are a few helpful hints to help manage our fears and to remember our hopes.

Social Distancing from Social Media and News

Many of us are relying on social media sites for information and to connect with friends, family and the outside world. With the outbreak of the virus, there is a constant onslaught of information that may be very overwhelming. When possible, try to take a break from monitoring these sights. It is okay to disconnect. Additionally, remember to evaluate the sources of your information. Finding reliable sources of news may help to mitigate some of the fears spread by false reports.

Things in Your Control vs.Things Out of Your Control

This idea is something that I often explore with my clients through any sort of struggle that invites anxiety. It can be helpful to determine specific things that are within your control versus the myriad of things that are out of your control. The image below has some good suggestions.


 Keep or Begin a Mindfulness Practice

If the idea of sitting cross legged in a silent room while trying to forget your thoughts sounds intimidating, you are not alone…it does for me too. Instead of trying to jump into meditation, try incorporating a grounding technique when feeling stressed. Grounding techniques encourage us to pay attention to our senses and environment rather than our ruminating thoughts and worries. One of my favorites is the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique.

Take a few deep breaths 

Now notice 5 things you can see…

Followed by 4 things you can hear…

Now 3 things you can touch…

2 things you can smell…

And 1 thing you can taste.

End with a few more deep breaths.

Notice how you’re feeling and practice this technique whenever needed. Remember, this is temporary.

Julie Bond, LAMFT

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak and the Fear of the Unknown

Para español

Every day we learn more about this virus and its effects and we wonder when it will end. When will life get back to normal, back to our regular routine? This is new territory for all of us to navigate. Imagine trying to drive cross-country with no GPS and no map. You’ll eventually get there – but which route do you take? How long will it take? What do you need to bring with you on this journey? This can be very anxiety provoking and it is how many of us feel as we deal with COVID-19. The uncertainty will eventually end, but until then, we must learn how to navigate this journey and the stress that it generates.

Anxiety is often defined as the fear of the unknown. This feeling of uncertainty and lack of control over our environment can put us on edge, impact our moods, affect our relationships, and cloud our thinking. The world we thought we knew has changed dramatically. Many of us are out of work, quarantined, dealing with kids who are out of school, lacking in supplies, unable to see friends and family, and more. It can be overwhelming!

How do we deal with this disruption to our lives? First and foremost, take one day at a time. Focus on your daily activities by scheduling things that you can do so that you feel productive. Do some spring cleaning, eliminate clutter, pack up items that you can donate to those less fortunate. Spend some quality time with your kids and/or other members of your household listening to music, reading together, watching a funny movie or deciding what you’ll plant in your garden come spring! There are many websites out there that you can explore with your family including Virtual School Activities where you can tour the Anne Frank House, view the giraffe cam at the San Diego Zoo or see the Great Wall of China. See our resource page for more activities to enjoy from home.

If you are alone, reach out to friends and family by phone or via Skype, Facetime or Zoom. Limit your check-ins for news updates to once a day. And everyone needs to practice good self-care, limit caffeine and sugar intake, get adequate rest and exercise. Learn some breathing exercises or yoga and practice the calming influence of meditation and mindfulness. See our recent blog post on mindfulness and meditation for tips and resources.

If you feel you are in need of one-on-one counseling, contact Jewish Family & Children’s Services to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced clinicians who can personally help you to deal with the distress caused by COVID-19. Call us at 609-987-8100 Ext 102.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

Linda Kanner, LCSW

Have you searched for mindfulness skills to manage anxiety or depression?

Para español

Understanding what Mindfulness is all about and developing habits

Mindfulness can sound like a good idea, in theory, but without knowing a few simple tools, it can be harder to put into practice.

Mindfulness is not simply meditation, rather, it is about learning to live in the present moment. You may have come across this quote in a counselor’s office near you…

“Worrying never robs tomorrow of its sadness, it only robs today of its joy.” This is, in a quick phrase, the heart of mindfulness. When we learn to pay attention to the present moment, we focus our energies only on what is occurring at this moment in time and thus do not worry about the past or future.

For individuals with anxiety, a focus on the past and/or future can occupy a lot of time and means that they are missing out on the good things happening right now.

The global health situation has created a heightened state of fear, anxiety, and unknown. Despite this, there are pleasant things surrounding us each day. Spring has spring and while many in our region are living in levels of quarantine or sheltered-in-place, we can take time to go outside and embrace the seasonal change. We can see the trees and early flowers blooming, feel the warmth of the sun on our faces. These may seem to be small pleasures, but they are important ones. We can all remember to seek out joy rather than being weighed down by anxiety as the days and weeks go by…joy from our children (if we are parents), joy from our pets (if we have them), joy found in a friendly voice on the phone from a loved one, a neighbor, a friend, or a JFCS staff member, joy in the warmer weather and many more small pleasures.

The above may feel easier said than done, but in reality mindfulness training does not require extraordinary efforts. There are apps online such as Headspace or Calm, or guided meditations on Youtube as well as resources listed below.

The reason that meditation is so often promoted as a door to mindfulness is because it asks us to concentrate on the breath. When we do that, we are truly only concentrating on the present moment, the rise of the in-breath, the fall of the out-breath. Will distractions arise? Of course, they will! But be compassionate to yourself – another important part of mindfulness! – and return your focus to the breath. Think of this like practicing for a sport, an instrument, or anything requiring concentration and repetition over time, your focus will begin to improve and you will find that moments of stillness and peace can arrive.

Then, when you are going about your day, remind yourself now and then, gently, to return your focus to the present moment. Perhaps you will be waiting on the phone, or cooking dinner, or cleaning and find your mind wandering into anxiety. It is in those moments that you can focus on the breath or you can focus more intently on the job at hand. Cooking, for example, can be a chore or something that is more about its end than the process, but it can also be a place to find calm and to focus on the present – the way the onion falls to the cutting board as you slice it, or the aromas that waft to your nose as you stir in spices. Using the five senses can be a wonderful and more practical way to find mindfulness!

A morning run can feel like a chore; next time, as you run, note the spring buds on the trees, breathe in the fresh morning air. Use everyday activities to practice mindfulness and it will soon become habit. You will find in those moments of anxiety, you will have some tools to bring you back to the present moment

Enjoy the journey – mindfulness is a lifelong process but you can begin to see the benefits quickly!


Claire Brown LSW


What is a Social Worker? Celebrating Our Staff during Social Work Month

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), “Social work is a profession for those with a strong desire to help improve people’s lives.”

I have the joy of working with driven, compassionate social workers every day at JFCS. In our agency, the social work profession is represented in every program and service. Our counseling department is staffed with licensed social workers and licensed clinical social workers providing therapy to those battling depression, anxiety, trauma and more.

We employee social workers across our senior services to provide geriatric care management, helping older adults and their families navigate the choices to remain in their home or seek assisted living. The Holocaust Survivor program is delivered by a social worker who works one on one with survivors to ensure they are receiving the care they need as they age.

Social work interns interact with seniors at our Kosher Cafes and help clients in the Yvette Sarah Clayman Kosher Food Pantry.

JFCS, at our core, is about empowering individuals make to care for themselves and others. For a social worker, that is just a day at the office.

We thank and appreciate all social workers for the service they provide to their communities.

Michelle Napell

JFCS Mobile Food Pantry Delivers to Seniors, Children & Families – Reaches Almost 350 Individuals in First Month

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County [JFCS] has been out on the road for a full month and served its first clients through the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry.

The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry brings the experience of a food pantry directly to individuals who experience significant obstacles accessing existing resources located in Mercer County whether it is due to a lack of transportation options, physical mobility limitations or language barriers to existing services.

On February 11, the Mobile Food Pantry visited Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in Yardville, NJ. That evening the church served a free, hot dinner prepared by the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). As the guests arrived, they were greeted by JFCS staff and volunteers helping to explain the Mobile Food Pantry.

Staff and volunteers provided checklist sheets to the dinner attendees who were able to select their preferences within food categories – dairy, fruit, vegetables, protein and grains – and quantity of each product based on their household size. Wegman’s of Princeton generously provided 1,000 reusable bags for JFCS Mobile Food Pantry patrons. JFCS was able to provide groceries to 25 individuals at Holy Apostles, benefiting over 40 total people based on reported household sizes.

The Mobile Food Pantry made its second stop on February 20 at Better Beginnings Child Development Center in Hightstown, NJ. With the Mobile Food Pantry parked in the Better Beginnings parking lot, a team from JFCS, including staff and a volunteer fluent in Spanish, helped the parents navigate the grocery selection process. In a little over 2 hours, staff and volunteers packed bags of groceries for 57 families – representing over 250 total people served. A majority of those served represented households of 4 or more family members.

“Transportation is often an issue for some of our parents and having the resources here on-site is a huge help to them,” said Luz Horta, Executive Director of Better Beginnings. “We appreciate the consideration JFCS has given to the selection of foods provided, which are nutritional, healthy, and culturally diverse. Our mission is to provide a high-quality affordable early learning childcare program to low-income working families. Through the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry our families now receive the resources for multiple meals, free of charge. Every bit helps them keep food on the table during difficult times.”

 On February 27, the Mobile Food Pantry stopped at Wheaton Pointe, a low-income senior housing facility in East Windsor, NJ. Residents had the opportunity to make selections to their personal tastes from the products on the truck. JFCS was able to provide groceries to almost 50 individuals at the stop.

The Mobile Food Pantry has already received significant recognition for the impact of this initiative.

6ABC Action News (WPVI-TV Philadelphia) was on-site to capture the Mobile Food Pantry in action at Better Beginnings. The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry will be featured in their “NJ Proud” segment airing on Sunday, March 15 during the morning show, 6 – 8 AM.

At the JFCS annual fundraiser, Casino Night, held on March 7, the agency highlighted the Mobile Food Pantry as the Beacon of Hope. The event welcomes almost 400 community members including representatives from founding corporate sponsors of the truck, Bristol Myers-Squibb, Church & Dwight, Lennar, NRG Energy and the Wawa Foundation.

Most recently, the Mobile Food Pantry earned national recognition as the winner of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agency’s 2020 Annual Conference Pillar of Excellence Award in the Innovation category.

For the month of March distribution stops are currently planned for Redding Circle, an affordable housing development in Princeton, NJ and return visits to the first three locations to start their monthly schedule.

The Truth About Long Distance Caregiving

About 1 in 8 family caregivers live more than an hour’s drive from the recipient of the care. Whether you are in a different city, a different state, across the country, or across the globe, as caregiver you want to be there without always being there.

According to AARP, these are five steps to staying informed and effective as a long-distance caregiver.

  1. Establish Access

Caregiving often involves having the legal authority to make financial and healthcare related decisions. Having good information channels to accessing this information is crucial to a long distance caregiver. Try to arrange as much as possible during an in-person visit, when you can work with your loved one to locate, organize and fill out necessary paperwork such as a will, power of attorney and medical care plan.

  1. Create a Team

In the digital age, you can handle many important tasks remotely, such as paying bills and ordering prescriptions; however, you will need others to be your eyes, ears and sometimes hands on the ground. It is natural for long distance caregivers to feel guilty about delegating certain jobs to others, but do not try and do it all. Delegating regular check-ins and more hands-on care to nearby family, friends or professionals can be in the best interest of your loved one, especially in cased of serious or complicated health issues.

  1. Find a Local Coordinator

A local care manager can supply local knowledge and help with caregiving logistics. One option is to hire a reputable caregiving professional, also known as geriatric care manager, aging life care manager or eldercare navigator or coordinator. These professionals are often licensed nurses or social workers and can be valuable mediators or sounding boards when family members disagree on care decisions. A care manager can help make tough choices easier on the caregiver and care recipient – such as knowing when it is no longer safe for a loved one to live at home – by presenting an array of options from a knowledgeable, outside perspective.

  1. Stay in the Loop

Establish ways to communicate regularly with your local team and loved one, whether through organization apps, group emails or social tools like FaceTime and Skype.

  1. Make the Most of Visits

Nothing replaces an in-person visit. When you can manage one, come with a list of things you need to know or discuss.

How can JFCS help you to navigate these challenges?

If your loved one resides in Princeton, NJ or the surrounding Mercer County area, consider a membership in the award-winning Secure@Home program offerings through JFCS. Our Secure@Home team of highly skilled Senior Care Consultants provides a comprehensive umbrella of care management services to help older adults age comfortably, independently and safely in their own homes.

Membership includes a complete home assessment, care plan, 24-hour emergency telephone availability, “Chore Corps” volunteers and regular check-ins, preferred provider list and wellness lectures.

If you are concerned about your loved one, please call JFCS at 609-987-8100 and ask to speak to a Secure@Home representative.

Sponsors, Donors, Community Leaders and More Gather to Celebrate the Mobile Food Pantry

Almost 100 guests joined JFCS Board and staff members as the agency debuted the Mobile Food Pantry to supporters on January 30.

Those in attendance were able to tour the truck and preview the client experience. Michelle Napell toasted the supporters gathered and thanked all for their cooperative effort in getting the Mobile Food Pantry on the road.

Those in attendance included local leadership – Mayor Janice Mironov of East Windsor and Denise Daniels, East Windsor Council Member; Marygrace Billek, Director of Human Services Mercer County; Louise Rush, Director, New Jersey Division of Aging Services; Peter Crowley, President of Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber; and Jeff Vega, President & CEO Princeton Area Community Foundation.

The Mobile Food Pantry became a reality through the support of corporate and individual founding sponsors who collectively donated over $335,000 towards the purchase, customization and stocking of the Mobile Food Pantry for its first year on the road. Representatives from several of the corporate supporters including Firmenich, NJM Insurance, Lennar Homes, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Church & Dwight, and the Wawa Foundation attended the launch event.

Both corporate and individual sponsors of the Mobile Food Pantry will be invited to volunteer at a distribution stop. The first distribution stops are scheduled in February at locations in Hamilton (Yardville), East Windsor and Hightstown with more being finalized.


JFCS hopes to utilize the truck to encourage more corporate volunteer and community engagement opportunities. Businesses can sponsor an individual distribution stop or become a named sponsor with logo placement on the truck for one year. Sponsorships include the option to use the partnership as a team building or employee service day by volunteering at a distribution stop. Supporters who commit at $5,000 or above will have the name and/or logo added to the truck for display. The Mobile Food Pantry also opens JFCS to the opportunity to park at local grocery stores or community partner locations to host a food drive to “stock the truck.”

If you’re interested in sponsorship or volunteering opportunities for the Mobile Food Pantry, contact Helaine Isaacs at HelaineI@jfcsonline.org or 609-987-8100 Ext 104.


Our Thanks to Founding Mobile Food Pantry Sponsors:

Ruth and Martin Clayman

Fran & Larry Sucharow Philanthropic Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation

JFCS Women’s Alliance

The Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation


Pat and Ray Schlaefer

Abrams Foundation

B Creative 

Church & Dwight

Kaia, Owen and Avery Janofsky

Mercer County

The Wawa Foundation

The Bank of Princeton

Bristol Myers Squibb 

Bobbi and Barry Freedman

Danielle and Jeremy Perlman Family Fund

Jacqueline and Joel Goldfinger

Richard Goldfinger

Jill and Gregg Jaclin

Lennar Homes 

Nexus Properties

Novo Nordisk

NJM Insurance Group

NRG Energy