Jewish Family Service of Middlesex County to celebrate 50 years

Jewish Family Service of Middlesex County to celebrate 50 years

Volunteers prepare Passover bags to be distributed to families and individuals in need.
Volunteers prepare Passover bags to be distributed to families and individuals in need.

Elise Knauer’s father has Alzheimer’s disease and lives in the Clearbrook adult community in Monroe. In 2014 she became concerned when she noticed he’d had significant weight loss and signed him up for kosher Meals on Wheels, a program of Jewish Family Service of Middlesex County (JFS).

Knauer calls the 12 meals he receives weekly “a true godsend.” She said they were perfect for someone his age: nutritionally balanced, not heavily spiced, and most of all, delicious.

“He eats every last drop,” she said. “There is a nice variety and he has maintained his weight.”

On June 2 JFS will hold its annual fund-raising gala. The organization began 50 years ago when a committee met in the former YM-YWHA of Raritan Valley in Highland Park to offer services to members of the Jewish community in need or in crisis.

The small committee of what was then called the Jewish Federation of Raritan Valley later became the Jewish Family Services of Southern Middlesex County. In 2006 it merged with Jewish Family Services of Northern Middlesex County to become today’s Jewish Family Service of Middlesex County.

“This is the kind of organization that touches lives,” said board president Jeff Einbond. “All our resources and money goes to impact people’s lives. Our philosophy is based on Jewish values and it is wonderful working with people who are focused on helping others.”

Volunteers stock the kosher food pantry at Jewish Family Service.

The full-service agency employees 45 staff members in a Milltown and a Monroe office and operates with a $4 million annual budget. “We help everyone in the community regardless of race, religion, or creed,” said executive director Roni Salkin, although many of its programs, including JRecovery Addiction services, programs for Holocaust survivors, and kosher Meals on Wheels and food drives, are geared toward the Jewish community.

Among the community resources JFS offers are mental health counseling, immigration services, and a center to train women who need to become financially self-sufficient. The large number of programs and services rely on some 350 volunteers.

“We have volunteers who teach computer classes, drive clients to programs, deliver kosher Meals on Wheels, act as hosts and hostesses at our senior nutrition programs, and help out in the offices,” said Salkin. She said JFS also offers a variety of classes on topics such as networking and cooking on a budget.

Vickie Solomon of East Brunswick is the 2019 recipient of JFS’ Jewish Community Leader award. She’s been involved with the organization for 30 years as a volunteer, board member, and former president.

“When you see the look on the people’s faces who you are helping there is nothing better than that,” Solomon said. “When you actually go to these programs and see what you are doing with the checks you write, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

At its senior socialization programs, which include some people with cognitive challenges, Solomon has observed, “Someone will come in with a guitar and start singing songs from the ’40s and they just open up.” 

When Einbond retired from his hospital administration job eight years ago, he wanted to find a volunteer outlet that would be an extension of his long career in public service. Without knowing much about JFS he volunteered, and soon after joined the board as treasurer before assuming its presidency. 

A Hebrew school class from East Brunswick Jewish Center brings donations to the kosher food pantry at Jewish Family Service of Middlesex County.

“What I like about it is that it is really the heart and soul of the community,” he said, adding he especially liked making deliveries for the Passover food drive because it puts him in direct contact with community members. Although JFS has had a Passover food drive for decades, for the last two years volunteers have assembled 700 bags of food at Congregation Beth Ohr in Old Bridge, which are then delivered to 300 families and individuals in need.

Doreen Simon of Monroe utilizes the services of JFS’s career workshop. The agency’s career specialist, Diane Markowitz, assists Simon in resume writing and job-hunting techniques. Previously JFS found Simon, a master gardener, a job at a gardening center, which she held for several years.

“They are fantastic,” said Simon of JFS. “I’m really lucky to have them.”

Jerry Zegman, a 97-year-old Polish Holocaust survivor living in the Concordia adult community in Monroe, suffered a stroke and now relies on Meals on Wheels.

“I appreciate them so much,” he said of JFS. “They give me good help because I cannot go beyond my driveway.”

He especially praised JFS coordinator of Holocaust services Fay Ross, who he said “is very good to me and does whatever she can to help us.”      

In addition to Solomon, other honorees at the gala include Joel Markel, founder and president of Preferred Home Health Care & Nursing Services, and Lina Llona, president of Middlesex County’s Regional Chamber of

If you go

What: Jewish Family Service of Middlesex County One Community Gala featuring Art Shamsky, who played for the New York Mets in the 1969 World Series
Where: Congregation B’nai Tikvah, North Brunswick
When: Sunday, June 2, 5 p.m.
Cost: $180 per person, sponsorships available
RSVP: Judy or Jeanie at 732-777-1940

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