Mobile Food Pantry distribution.
Providing Help, Hope, and Healing in a Time of Pandemic
By Laurie Pellichero| Photos courtesy of JFCS
Based in Princeton, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) is a nonprofit agency that serves the entire community — individuals of all backgrounds, faiths, and ages. JFCS offers a wide spectrum of social services including senior programs, mental health counseling, food pantry and food distribution services, and community and youth engagement, all of which work together to provide a broad network of support.
JFCS has been assisting individuals and families with many of life’s toughest challenges since 1937, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges in getting people the help they need. While the agency has closed its office on Alexander Road to clients, visitors, and most staff members, JFCS has successfully continued all its major programs and has expanded its offerings as well.
The Mobile Food Pantry, which delivers nutritious food directly to Mercer County residents vulnerable to food insecurity and hunger, is a prime example of this, said Michelle Napell, executive director of JFCS. “This is still our first year on the road, and it has become the largest program due to the drastic increase in need,” she said. “We launched in January and made three stops, which served about 350 individuals, by the end of February. Then March came, and with it the COVID-19 pandemic that changed the dynamic of our community. The mobile pantry became an incredibly valuable resource as demand for food increased as well as the obstacles in getting food to those with the greatest need.”
Napell said that sourcing food for the mobile pantry, as well as the on-site pantry at JFCS headquarters, was a challenge early in the crisis. “Wegmans was a regular provider of fresh produce and goods, but, like all grocery chains, they experienced challenges meeting the demand in the late spring.”
To keep their pantry supplies stocked, Napell said the JFCS staff reached out to new vendors. “We sought out providers beyond our immediate area and built new relationships in the community,” she said.
“Community supporters have been incredible throughout the pandemic,” continued Napell. “We’ve had local groups hold food drives and make donations directly to the pantry. Princeton Christian Church donated several boxes of food, Princeton Elks Lodge has collected food and personal items, West Windsor Plainsboro Education Association has provided non-perishable items and several donations of fresh fruit, and the Beth El Synagogue Community Garden has been providing weekly donations of vegetables since early September.” more