Celebrating 75 years of ‘Families Helping Families’

Celebrating 75 years of ‘Families Helping Families’

For 75 years, Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County has been toiling to live the promise of its motto “Families Helping Families.”

Founded in 1937 as the Jewish Welfare Board, the organization helped waves of immigrants and displaced persons resettle in the Princeton Mercer Bucks area. In the early ’50s, a wave of Egyptian-Jewish immigrants arrived, followed by a group from Hungary in 1956.

In the ’90s JF&CS resettled about 50 families from the former Soviet Union, said the agency’s executive director, Linda Meisel.

Today, JF&CS provides extensive services to young and old. Its kosher lunch program, the only one in the county, served about 7,500 meals last year to senior citizens at three Kosher Cafes, in Ewing, East Windsor, and West Windsor. The agency helps provide transportation through a donor-funded program called Carolann’s Cars.

The nonprofit social service agency is now planning a year of anniversary celebrations, including a Dec. 4 intergenerational, community-wide Bingo Bash, a Diamond Jubilee Gala on Feb. 25, and a choral concert on March 25.

“Our 75th anniversary celebration will honor our founders, who, in the middle of the worst depression in American history, had the faith and vision to establish this agency to help those in the community who were in need,” said Meisel.

JF&CS is also embarking on a historical project, and a search is under way for an artist who will be commissioned to create a permanent piece of artwork to mark the milestone.

“We are excited about our traveling historical project spotlighting years of archival materials and featuring interviews with past presidents,” said Meisel. “We will showcase the project at municipal offices, libraries, schools, and senior centers to show that even in times of despair, people can turn it around and serve the greater good.”

JF&CS provided 2,800 counseling sessions by licensed therapists, about 42 percent of which were on a sliding fee scale. “One counseling client told us she had been so depressed she couldn’t get off the couch,” Meisel said. “Without the sliding fee scale, she would not have been able to get this much-needed service that enabled her to get back to work and enjoy her life again.”

‘Healing the world’

The agency’s 227 volunteers put in more than 4,300 volunteer hours last year, on a wide range of outreach programs, including Kosher Meals-on-Wheels, the food pantry, Centerpieces for Tzedakah, and Chore Corps.

Longtime Chore Corps volunteer Gil Gordon of Monmouth Junction helps provide free home repair and maintenance visits to the elderly. Corps volunteers handle tasks from changing a furnace filter and hard-to-reach light bulbs to helping install a computer or TV. During one visit, Gordon noticed the homeowner was having difficulty getting up the two steps from the garage to her home. So he installed a grab bar that enabled her to step safely and confidently.

“The little bit of help we provide enables them to be comfortable and safe in their homes. Whether it’s a favorite reading light that stopped working, or a towel bar that has come unhinged, it improves their whole outlook,” Gordon said.

Fran Amir of Plainsboro is one of a team of volunteers for JF&CS Kosher Meal-on-Wheels and the food pantry. She also helps coordinate the Centerpieces for Tzedakah, colorfully wrapped baskets of empty food packages, rented for events in lieu of flowers. The baskets help raise funds and awareness for the JF&CS food pantry.

As the former principal of the Jewish Center of Princeton’s religious school, Amir often ran programs with her students and JF&CS.

“When I retired in 2010, it was a natural transition for me to become involved with JF&CS as a volunteer,” she said.

The agency prides itself on its management efficiency. “Eighty-four cents of every dollar donated goes directly to services,” said Meisel. “We are very careful with how we spend our money so that the maximum amount can go directly to families.”

Witnessing the impact JF&CS staff and volunteers have on the community is “very gratifying,” Meisel said. “Every day I witness the tremendous power of families helping families. It really connects with my sense of tikun olam and healing the world in the Jewish tradition.”

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