JFCS Mobile Food Pantry Benefits Over 30,000 in 18 Months

In mid-July, the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry met an important milestone when the program distributed its 10,000th bag of food in the community.

The Mobile Food Pantry launched in January 2020 and grew quickly, with the initial roll out expedited by the onset of the pandemic. The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry includes two vehicles, the original mobile pantry truck and Poppy’s Pantry, a sprinter van which was purchased through a private gift in memory of Stuart “Poppy” Plotkin.

Both vehicles are out on the road every week and make over 20 distributions each month. Since its launch in early 2020, the mobile pantry program has made over 280 distributions stops across the Greater Mercer region. Distribution locations include a wide network of partners – community housing projects, schools, daycares, churches and a variety of social service organizations.

“When it’s 50 bags to a senior housing complex, 20 bags to a daycare facility, 60 bags to a school, it is incredible to see just how quickly we distributed 10,000 bags benefitting well over 30,000 individuals here in our community,” said Beth Englezos, JFCS Manager of Hunger Prevention.

Both the JFCS brick-and-mortar pantry and both mobile pantries continue to see high demand as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt by the most vulnerable in the community.

“Our mobile pantry never stopped, even though it was a new program, we saw early on in the pandemic just how vital mobility was in getting food to food insecure individuals and families, now forced to lockdown for their safety,” says Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director. “We are prepared to maintain our high level of deliveries and growing to meet demand as we continue to see the financial fallout from the pandemic.”

Upgrades In the Office & On the Road

Through generous grants and the support of the community, JFCS was able to keep the mobile pantries stocked to meet the need.

“We took advantage of having most of our staff working remotely to reconfigure the offices space which houses our brick-and-mortar pantry to accommodate the expanded storage needs in maintaining our mobile program,” adds Napell.

Private grants supported the purchase of new refrigeration and freezers to store fresh and frozen items distributed through both the brick-and-mortar and mobile pantries. The JFCS pantry programs are designed as healthy, choice pantries; while the pandemic has limited the choice option, JFCS remains committed to the healthy pantry model. Taryn Krietzman, JFCS Pantry Coordinator, is also a registered dietitian and informs the selection of products regularly stocked in the pantries. Additionally, Ms. Krietzman will create monthly recipes and resources that are distributed to all pantry clients and made available in both English and Spanish.

When Poppy’s Pantry was added to the mobile pantry fleet, it was designed to be an extra vehicle to transport bags of shelf-stable goods and select produce on short distribution runs. In the spring of 2021, JFCS received funding through Mercer Street Friends Food Bank Center for Nutritional Health and Wellness’ Network Investment Initiative, made possible with help from The Community Food Bank of New Jersey and lead funding from the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund and its partners. With this grant, the agency was able to have the van be converted to a fully refrigerated vehicle. Both vehicles are now able to transport fresh and frozen items at food-safe temperature to any location within the Greater Mercer region.

Preparing for the Next Phase

The JFCS mobile pantry programs continues to grow through a network of partners. The mobile pantry has made two distributions in partnership with the Muslim Center of Greater Princeton’s Hunger Van, which delivers hot meals to distribute to those in need. These distributions have brought the JFCS pantry across the river into Bucks County to churches and locations working with the Hunger Van.

“We know that, unfortunately, there are still so many deeply impact financially from this pandemic, and this impact will be felt for the months and years ahead,” says Napell.

A recent study by Legal Services of New Jersey’s Poverty Research Institute, demonstrated that the “true poverty” level in New Jersey is on average 2.5 times higher than the federal poverty line. The study considered actual cost of living compared to income. According to the study, in Mercer County, the true cost of living is almost 3 times what the federal government defines as the poverty line. In addition, recent data available through the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that an individual working minimum wage at $12/hour must work 88 hours a week to afford a modest apartment.

“The numbers show just how dire a position people are facing,” said Englezos. “When you think about the true cost of living from housing to daycare expenses to car expenses to utilities, a monthly paycheck is often spent before any groceries are purchased. It’s devastating; devastating to a parent who must make the choice between a bill and a meal, devastating to the family who now face long-term effects on their health and overall well-being, devastating to a community where a significant portion of the population faces this situation day after day.”

Prior to the pandemic, the JFCS brick-and-mortar pantry would allow clients to access the food pantry monthly, by appointment. It has been open 5 days a week since spring 2020, and most clients make weekly visits to keep their households fed. Similarly, the JFCS mobile pantries have several regular distributions each month, sometimes more than once a month, to ensure that their resources are reaching those in need as often as possible.

How to Help

Throughout the month of August and September, JFCS is organizing “Stuff the Truck” events around the community to collect healthy breakfast foods to stock in the pantry. The first “Stuff the Truck” event is held in partnership with Trenton Thunder on Wednesday, August 4 at 6 PM. Community members are welcome to join JFCS at the ballpark and bring a donation item for the food drive. Ticket link and details about upcoming “Stuff the Truck” events can be found at jfcsonline.org/events.

“The first meal of the day truly sets the tone and gives you the positive start needed,” said Taryn Krietzman, RDN, Pantry Coordinator. “We’re hoping we can get the pantry well stocked ahead of the school year so that food insecure children and families can have a nutritious breakfast to count on before they start their day.”

Community members are also encouraged to “Plant-a-Row” for JFCS in their personal or community gardens. Several local individuals and groups, including West Windsor Plainsboro Girl Scout Troops, synagogue and church groups, have been harvesting fresh produce from their gardens to donate to the JFCS pantry. These donations have helped the pantry maintain variety in the produce distributed to clients. Plant-a-Row donations are accepted through the fall; those interested in participating may contact Taryn Krietzman at TarynK@jfcsonline.org.

And on Sunday, October 3, JFCS will be holding the 1st Annual Wheels for Meals bike ride fundraiser. All event proceeds will support JFCS food programs – the on-site and mobile pantry, food distribution services and senior nutrition programs. Find ride details at jfcswheels4meals.org.

JFCS Inaugural Wheels for Meals Aims to Raise Over $100K to Fight Hunger in Mercer Community

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) will be holding their 1st Annual Wheels for Meals, bike ride to fight hunger, on Sunday morning, October 3, 2021, at Mercer County Community College.

Event proceeds will benefit all JFCS food programs, including their on-site and mobile food pantries and senior nutrition programs. Collectively, JFCS food programs benefit over 30,000 individuals across the greater Mercer region each year.

“During the pandemic, not a single one of our programs stopped, and our food programs saw higher demand than ever,” says Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director. “We anticipate that the increase in food insecurity in our community will continue, which is why JFCS is thrilled to launch this new annual fundraiser dedicated entirely to supporting our food programs.”

Individual riders can register for their choice of 32-mile, 10-mile or 3-mile routes, all starting on Mercer County Community College West Windsor Campus. The event also offers multiple levels of sponsorship for businesses or groups looking to create teams and support at a higher level.

Find all event details at www.JFCSWheels4Meals.org.

Event sponsors include Firmenich Charitable Foundation, Stark & Stark, The Gershen Group LLC, and NJM Insurance Group. Witherspoon Media Group is the official media partner of the event.

Back-to-School School Supply Drive 2021

NOW THROUGH AUGUST 13th!

Now more than ever, let’s continue to help children in need start the school year off right.

Our goal is to outfit 150+ children with the supplies they need to 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.

Help us by donating:

  • Sturdy backpacks for middle-school and high-school students
  • Notebooks (spiral, wide rule and marble)
  • Pencil cases/pouches
  • Pocket folders
  • #2 Pencils
  • Pens
  • Scissors
  • Highlighters
  • Glue Sticks
  • Index Cards
  • Markers
  • Boxes of Tissues

2 Ways to Donate

  1. Order and ship supplies of your website of choice ship to 707 Alexander Rd, Suite 204 Princeton NJ 08540
  2. Drop off items in our donation bin outside of: 707 Alexander Road, Suite 102 AND Suite 204 Princeton NJ 08540

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

IN THE NEWS! Mercer tote bag giveaway aims to end plastic

June 4, 2021

In the most recent Mercer County Sustainability Newsletter, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes’ Planning Department, with support from the Office of Economic Development, provided several food pantries in the County with reusable shopping bags and education on New Jersey’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, including the JFCS pantries.

Read more here.

JFCS Pantry Welcomes Donations from Individual & Community Gardens

May 11, 2021

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) is asking the community to help keep the agency pantry stocked with fresh produce throughout the spring and summer by harvesting from their very own gardens.

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.

“We always appreciate the donations from local individuals or even community gardens as it provides variety to the produce we usually offer,” said Beth Englezos, JFCS Manager of Hunger Prevention. “While we are able to store and distribute fresh and frozen produce from our regular food providers, there is something extra special about being able to give out locally grown, fresh from the garden items to our clients.”

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.

In addition to encouraging local gardeners to contribute to the food pantry, JFCS is also working to provide clients the tools to grow their own produce as well. 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.

Taryn Krietzman, RDN, JFCS Pantry Coordinator created easy to follow care instructions to provide along with the plant to pantry clients.

“Clients coming to our food pantry are food insecure and low-income. Growing one’s own produce is a simple way to get more food into the refrigerator and to save money,” says Krietzman.

Through an ongoing partnership with ONEProject, a Robbinsville-based organization, JFCS received a donation of 250 painted planters and cilantro seeds to provide our clients with additional resources.

“Food pantries are at the end of human-food production chain, making it difficult to acquire perishable foods such as fresh produce. By providing these resources directly to our clients, we can circumvent many of those challenges allow the client to have the freshest source of produce, right in their home,” added Krietzman.

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.

Delivering Healing in a Whole New Way: Mobile Food Pantry Helps Pave Path for Vaccine Distribution to Vulnerable Populations

UPDATE: April 29, 2021

JFCS and RWJ Hamilton went out to a second location for their vaccine distribution partnership, this time at Paul Robeson Charter School in Trenton. The school’s Panther Pantry is a regular distribution stop for the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry and the established relationship between the agency and the school helped ensure a successful vaccine distribution.

The faculty was incredibly helpful at spreading the word to their school community as well as surrounding neighborhood. Over 40 individuals, representing parents of students and local community residents, received their first Moderna vaccine dose. JFCS and RWJ Hamilton will return to administer the second dose after the 4 week period.

“We were very proud to have been a part of this initiative with RWJ and help make the connections to neighborhoods that had been unable to easily access vaccines,” said Michelle Napell. “Overall, every individual who receives a vaccine benefits our entire community, and we are happy to have been able to help reach these groups.”

April 12, 2021

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) partnered with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (RWJ Hamilton) to bring vaccines directly into neighborhoods with the most vulnerable populations and fewest resources to access available vaccine options.

On March 19, The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry went out along with a RWJ Hamilton mobile vaccine team to Architects Housing in Trenton, a senior low-income housing apartment, for a pilot run of this new partnership where they provided the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to 65 individuals. The joint team returned on April 9 to administer the second dose of the vaccine.

“As the vaccine started to roll out, I considered how we might be able to utilize our Mobile Food Pantry, which has built in refrigeration and freezer units, to help distribute the vaccine to individuals who were having trouble accessing available sites,” said Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director. “We approached RWJ Hamilton as we’ve partnered with them in the past for successful programs and knew they could be the resource for vaccine distributions.”

While RWJ Hamilton handles the transport of the vaccine by its own team, the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry has an important presence the day of vaccinations. The mobile pantry arrives along with the RWJ team and JFCS staff helped organize the vaccination process, assisted those receiving vaccines, and distributed breakfast bags to recipients.

“Architects Housing has become a regular distribution site for our mobile pantry,” says Beth Englezos, JFCS Manager of Hunger Prevention. “We first connected with their site in June 2020 and have since made monthly, sometimes even bi-monthly stops, as needed by their residents.”

“The presence of our mobile pantry, a trusted, welcome resource to the Architects Housing residents, was really important on the day of vaccinations,” added Napell. “We continue to see in the news how low-income populations, especially older adults, are hitting every obstacle to accessing vaccines – from not having internet access to sign up, to lacking transportation to vaccine sites, to being missed by communications coming from state and local levels about vaccine safety and availability. The presence of our pantry and our team, a familiar and reliable resource, helped make the vaccine experience as easy as possible for the recipients.”

JFCS and RWJ Hamilton are discussing other locations where they can replicate the vaccine and mobile pantry partnership at other locations.

“We have partnerships with many organizations, institutions, and housing developments that work with those who currently quality for vaccine but lack the resources to get connected with sites. We hope our connections can be an in-road to RWJ Hamilton reaching these individuals,” said Napell.