Social service committee marks milestone
Local volunteer group celebrates 100 years of aid to those in need
Roz Pindyck has survived stage four breast cancer and now has diabetes and high blood pressure, and she has difficulty walking. Her husband, Bernie, suffers from an autoimmune disease that has required 55 operations in recent years.
They lost their home in Florida because of mounting medical expenses and now live in affordable housing in Monroe.
Desperate, Roz Pindyck called the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ and was referred to the Jewish Social Service Committee of New Brunswick and Highland Park, Inc. For 100 years, JSSC has been helping Jewish residents of Middlesex County who have fallen on hard times and need help paying for rent, mortgages, utilities, food, and medical bills and with other expenses.
Asked what would have happened if the committee hadn’t come to the couple’s aid, Pindyck’s voice trailed off. “The committee really saved us, because if we can’t see our doctors…,” she said. “We’re on food stamps as well, but we still can’t make ends meet. It’s a nightmare.”
The committee will celebrate its century of service at a gala Sunday, Nov. 1, at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick. Honorees will be president Barnett Hoffman of Highland Park, and treasurer Lee Livingston and recording secretary Ann Salzberg, both of East Brunswick.
Livingston, a former president of what was the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, said the committee gave out $140,000 in 2014, a number that has held steady over the last several years.
“We have zero overhead,” said Livingston. “Not one penny donated to us is used for anything other than to help people. It’s been that way for 100 years; just a group of concerned volunteers looking to help the community.”
The committee was created by a bequest left by Amelia Marks, the reclusive owner of a “shmata shop” in New Brunswick, after her death in 1911.
The bulk of her estimated $100,000 estate was left to create $200 dowries for poor Jewish women residing in New Brunswick. Another $2,000 — $50,000 in today’s money — was to be invested, with the interest used to fund her bequest. With dowries no longer required, the charter was amended to serve the needs of the county’s Jewish community.
“No one knew she had that kind of money,” said Livingston, who keeps a copy of Marks’s will, in which she also left small amounts to St. Peter’s General Hospital, Congregation Ahavas Achim, and the Hebrew Sheltering Society.
Today the committee, which now has 14 board members, meets needs that have been growing in recent years.
“It is a total misconception that there aren’t profound needs in the Jewish community,” said Livingston. “It’s sometimes surprising when a member of our committee realizes a neighbor down the street has come to us because they are in a desperate situation. One of the problems in the Jewish community is that people often wait too long, and by the time they come to us it’s too late to help because their problems are so monumental.”
Livingston said grants from the Heart of NJ federation cover the annual cost of $12,000-$15,000 for the food vouchers the committee distributes to those in need and the $10,000 for camp scholarships provided to young children whose working parents cannot afford to send them and have no other childcare options. Some camperships are given to children with special needs to attend specialized camps. “We sent 19 Jewish children to local camps, which in most cases allowed both parents to continue working,” said Livingston.
Most clients are referred by the federation, local rabbis, or the Jewish Family Service of Middlesex County, with which, said Livingston, the committee works “hand in hand.”
Hoffman, a retired Middlesex County Superior Court judge now working as an attorney, is the longest continuously serving board member. He calls his committee work “the most rewarding thing I have ever done.”
Hoffman’s father, Samuel, and his uncle, Charles Baltin, both served on the committee.
“When I first started, people were asking for things like a dairy order,” he recalled. “We’d have milk, eggs, and bread delivered. Occasionally we found someone who needed some money for rent or a utility bill, and that continued from 1968 until about 1990.”
As the economy contracted, requests began getting bigger.
Currently, Livingston said, the biggest needs are senior housing, utility assistance, and automobile repairs.
“All our clients are driving cars that are at least 10 years old, and with the public transportation issue in New Jersey, without cars they can’t get to work,” he said.
Livingston said he recently met a mother of three facing eviction from her apartment. Her ex-husband wasn’t paying child support, and she had been laid off three months earlier.
“I told her we’d pay the rent, and she started to cry,” he said. “We’re now trying to help her find a job.”
Salzberg, who came on the board in 1981, is also carrying on a family tradition that began when her grandmother, Rose Spitz, joined the original board. Her mother, Sylvia Politziner, followed, and Salzberg’s daughter-in-law, Marcy, has made it four generations.
“I was very young when my grandmother was doing it and, of course, I watched my mother my whole life,” said Salzberg, “I was always aware of the importance of helping others. It was instilled in me as a young child,”
Roz Pindyck, 70, a former manager at a Pier One Imports store, said she and her 77-year-old husband have relied on help from their three sons, but they have been stretched financially. “My kids want to give,” she said, “but I don’t even want to ask anymore.”
Bernie Pindyck, a former beverage distributor, told NJJN that after learning of their plight, the committee agreed to pick up the 20 percent of medical payments Medicare doesn’t cover and provide supplemental food vouchers.
“Without them we wouldn’t be able to see our doctors,” he said.
“We help desperate people get back on their feet and pick up the pieces of their lives,” said Salzberg.
To contribute to the Jewish Social Service Committee of New Brunswick and Highland Park, Inc., send checks to 850 Carolier Lane, North Brunswick, NJ 08902 or fill out the form at jssnb.org.