All posts by Jared Kofsky

#VotingBlockNJ: The Wall Hosts Political Potluck in Trenton

On November 7th, New Jerseyans will head to their neighborhood polling place to cast their votes for the 2017 gubernatorial election, as well as for State Assembly and State Senate. Two public questions are on the ballot as well, and residents of many municipalities will also vote for positions such as Freeholder, Board of Education member, and Mayor. As Election Day nears, news outlets across the Garden State are hosting ‘Political Potluck’ events in the communities that they serve as part of Voting Block, an initiative that is being coordinated by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media in partnership with outlets such as WNYC in New York, WHYY in Philadelphia, and NJ Spotlight.

In order for the voices of Trenton residents, especially individuals experiencing homelessness and/or poverty in New Jersey capital city, to be heard as part of Voting Block, The Wall, which is published by The College of New Jersey’s Bonner Institute in collaboration with the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, recently held a Political Potluck in the city. The event was held in partnership with the Trenton Community A-TEAM on Wednesday, October 25th at the Stockton 51 gallery on North Stockton Street in the Old Trenton neighborhood.

The dinner was catered by Trenton’s own Thomasena’s Restaurant, and signs advertising the Political Potluck were posted across the city, including at the CEAS Center, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, the Henry J. Austin Health Center, Catholic Charities, and the Orchid House. Flyers were also distributed to residents who are experiencing homelessness.

Although the team at The Wall was unsure how many Trentonians would attend, we were fortunate to be joined by around a dozen area residents during the meal to discuss a variety of issues related to public policy. Attendees included individuals experiencing homelessness who are currently staying at the Rescue Mission of Trenton, patrons of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, local artists from the Trenton Community A-TEAM, community members who run the Orchid House, and residents of the surrounding Old Trenton neighborhood.

The event began with all attendees introducing themselves, and one participant sang to his fellow residents. Discussions included public transportation in the Trenton area, and the possibility that the River Line could one day be expanded to the New Jersey State House. Attendees also talked about the need for increased funding for public schools in Trenton, charter schools, the ‘food desert’ crisis that is facing the city and other urban areas across the state, vacant properties in their communities, a lack of shelters and housing in general for people experiencing homelessness in New Jersey, high taxes in the Garden State, the “epidemic” of drugs in the state, racism, classism, corruption among New Jersey politicians, police brutality, and the importance of the public questions.

During the Political Potluck, most community members who came said that they were either unpleased with candidates Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno, or that they did not know about Murphy and were not interested in voting for Guadagno because of their dissatisfaction with Governor Chris Christie. One attendee, who said that she votes in every election, told the group that she is considering boycotting this election.

Regarding homelessness, one attendee experiencing homelessness discussed how “the Rescue Mission is the one and only shelter,” explaining how people of all ages are staying there. She stated that her fellow residents are “carrying bags all day” and “struggling with mental health issues,” adding that she believes that some of the cost of operating these kinds of temporary shelters would be better spent on providing individuals experiencing homelessness with permanent housing.

“When you walk around the city, there are so many buildings that are empty,” she explained, citing how the former Mercer Hospital, which is currently vacant, could be converted into housing for people in need.

“There are so many properties that are vacant, but they can really be used for something good,” she told the group.

This is the first in a series of reports about The Wall’s Political Potluck in Trenton. More articles about the event will be posted on thewall.pages.tcnj.edu.

Come Eat and Talk Politics With The Wall on Wednesday

The team at The Wall is excited to announce that we are partnering with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media, and the Trenton Community A-TEAM to host a Political Potluck as part of the Voting Block project!

Trenton residents experiencing homelessness or poverty are encouraged to come to the Stockton 51 gallery, located at 51 North Stockton Street in Downtown Trenton, this Wednesday, October 25th at 3:00pm for a free catered dinner and to discuss public policy, politics, your views on the current state of Trenton and New Jersey as a whole, and, specifically, what you feel is important as the 2017 election nears.

Please note that the dinner discussion will be audio recorded for possible broadcast in order for other residents of New Jersey to hear your perspectives.

Please let us know at thewallnewspaper@gmail.com if you have any questions, and we hope to see you on Wednesday afternoon. Visit https://www.votingblocknj.com/ to learn more about the project.

#VotingBlockNJ

-Flyer by McKenna Samson-

TDI: Connecting the Capital

Article by Odalys Quito

“Trenton makes the world takes” can be seen by anyone who passes the Lower Trenton Bridge. The powerful slogan represents the historical significance of a city that was once a landmark for business and opportunity. Today, while the city is still alive with the same vivacious spirit, it is also home to high rates of homelessness, unemployment, and poverty.

For many of the individuals who experience these adversities, access to the internet, technology, and a basic understanding of how a computer works underlies many of these problems. Fortunately, programs in the capital such as the Trenton Digital Initiative are working tirelessly to provide these same individuals with an opportunity to overcome such modern challenges.

TDI receives donations that are then renovated into functional computers and laptops. Their mission is to get a computer into every home in Trenton, where over 17,000 families lack access to the Internet. As of today, TDI has provided over 580 computers and laptops to families in the community

Although TDI does not provide families with direct Internet access, they have partnered with Comcast to implement the Internet Essentials Program (IEP). Families who have a child enrolled in the federal lunch program are eligible for IEP, which provides internet access for the price of $10 per month.

According to the City of Trenton, 62 percent of K-12 public school students in the city are enrolled in the federal lunch program and a large majority of these students now have access to the internet through IEP. Families receiving housing assistance are also eligible for the program.

Dave Zboray, the program’s cofounder spoke of the importance of Internet access to many of these families and children: “Imagine for a day, let alone a year, that you don’t have access to your laptop. What does that mean? You don’t have access to education.” For children in particular, the lack of access to this important resource can hinder academic success and achievement. Zboray also discussed the lack of public technological resources in the city, citing the city’s few libraries as a limited source of access.

Zboray’s work continues to make a positive impact on the residents of Trenton. He cheerfully recounts the experiences of the residents that he has worked alongside. For example, an unemployed single father of two received a computer from TDI. The same day that he received the laptop, he started to apply for jobs on the internet.

Zboray elaborates on this experience by stating that “the father calls me and says ‘I got an interview at The Cheesecake Factory. A week later, he tells me that he got the job.”

With technology and the internet become more and more of a necessity, programs like TDI are moving the lives of many forward and working to close the gap one computer at a time.


Trenton Digital Initiative

(609) 689-9960 x16

(609) 203-9064

tdi@midjerseychamber.org


Photo by Jared Kofsky

Organizations Deliver Food to Local Homebound Residents

By Shradha Suresh

In addition to families, single parents and children, many of the elderly in our communities are faced with food insecurity. According to Feeding America, about 8% of households (2.9 million seniors who are above the age of 65) experienced food insecurity in 2015. The Mercer Street Friends Food Bank’s website states that oftentimes the elderly have to chose between food and medicine. Food insecurity has a dangerous impact at any age, but it can be particularly problematic for the health of the elderly.

There are a number of problems that contribute to the rising number of elderly faced with food insecurity and the gravity of the issue. The website of Food Insecurity and Aging Adults states that “the elderly feel that food stamps are reserved for the young and would be judged if they used them. They also lack transportation and are unable to prepare food.”

The Mercer County Nutrition Project for the Elderly is combating the problem on two fronts, providing access to satiating, nutritional meals and an opportunity for these individuals to engage with their communities.

“This program is quite different from other programs because they stress on the importance of socialization; it is a program that is catered for the elderly to get a warm meal,” says Jenifer Williams, the program’s Executive Director.

The program is also unique in that it provides these same services to those who are homebound and immobile, as well. The program, which is both locally and federally funded, runs from Monday to Friday. The only requirement is that the client or his/her spouse must be over the age of 60.

Kamille Munger, a client of the program, said that she started visiting the program with her husband years ago. Today, the same location is where she seeks closure for her husbands and daughter’s deaths through an extensive network of friends that she first met there. In this way, the organization has helped her work through a challenging period of grief and depression.

Another organization that delivers similar resources and support to individuals who are homebound is Meals on Wheels of Mercer County. With the help of a large base of committed volunteers, the organization delivers meals to these individuals.

Patrons may receive one hot meal and one cold meal per day on Mondays through Fridays. There are also a small number of weekend meals available to weekday meal recipients. In addition to these services, the program offers nutrition education, shelfstable groceries once a month, ‘Blizzard Bags” during inclement weather, and pet food for those who need them.

Although the program only requires that patrons be over the age of 21, Sasa Montano, the Executive Director of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County, said that the program finds that it is serving an increasing number of elderly residents who are immobile.

The program allows patrons to can choose the day, meals and length of the services that they need. A nutritionist determines all the ingredients and meals provided on a daily basis. Additionally, the program uses federal poverty guidelines to determine if patrons require a subsidy.

According to Joyce Stilwells, the Director of the Lawrence Township Meals on Wheels Program, “the delivery system is like a check with the elderly where they still have their independence and dignity but through which they can connect to people.”

Moreover, they provide these individuals with the independence and nutrition that they need. These two programs serve as an important resource to an often-overlooked population in the community.


Mercer County Nutrition Project for the Elderly  – (609) 989-6650

Meals on Wheels of Mercer County – (609) 695-3483

East Trenton Organization Brings Housing To City Residents

By Maksymilian Popinski

On 794 E. State St in Trenton is the Martin House, the building from which Father Brian McCormick of the Catholic Diocese first established his non-profit organization, Better Community Housing Trenton (BCHT) in 1972. Fa ther Brian McCormick, known as Father Brian within the community, devoted his life to building the organization into what it is today: A non-profit that restores dilapidated and neglected homes and sells them strictly to struggling families in the region.

According to their website, the purpose of BCHT is to provide home ownership and ownership skills to those who fall below the poverty line.

The Martin House itself was designed as a clothing store, in which members who qualified for and purchased a home had to volunteer one day of service to the Trenton community.

In the store, individuals can purchase a grocery bag of clean clothes for eight dollars, and those with special conditions (behavioral issues, burn victims, physically disabled) receive this clothing at no cost. Martin House receives the majority of their inventory from donations, a portion of which is from locals moving out of the area.

Originally, the bulk of the building housed only the Martin House, but when the organization started to expand and sell homes, Father Brian McCormick decided to use the adjacent buildings (through very generous donations from the community) to add new wings to the Martin House. Likewise, the staff originally consisted only of Father Brian, a few priests who resided in the bedrooms, and a few secretaries.

Now the former bedrooms and wings are used for recreational or Martin House sponsored events. These events embody the vivacious spirit of the East Trenton community, attracting individuals from across the state including actor Martin Sheen who attended a program in 1989.

Along with the Martin House is the Martin House Learning Center operated by Ms. Sheila Conway. Conway devotes her time to hosting a number of educational, recreational and social activities including boy/girl scouts, a preschool, and afterschool programs. In conjunction with these educational initiatives, parents were invited to study for their GED alongside their children as they complete their schoolwork.

In 2011, BCHT completed a project on the 900th block of E. State Street where they built twelve new homes. This was the last project by Fr. Brian McCormick who reached the age of 70 and retired as per the regulations of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately for the Martin House, the only tie that the Diocese had to the organization was Father Brian McCormick, and without a new priest to take up the reins, Martin House no longer has access to a $120,000 stipend from the Catholic Diocese.

Unfortunately, this has taken a toll on the home rehabilitation operations. Despite not having the help of the Diocese, many of the organization’s Catholic affiliations are still very much involved with BCHT’s efforts.

The Martin House is currently headed by Pearleen Waters. Waters, the Chief Executive Director of Operations, became a homeowner as a result of the Martin House several years ago. Waters spends her time sharing the organization’s rich history and advocating for individuals’ equal opportunity to own and maintain their own home.

“With housing in general, a basic necessity in life, it is very upsetting that some people cannot even maintain a roof over their heads,” said Waters.

Despite the humanitarian merit of the organization, Waters admits operations have become difficult without the funds from the Diocese, and Martin House requires a contractor and bookkeeper in order to continue with home rehabilitations. Martin House accepts donations of all kind and encourages those who may have spare furniture or clothing to stop by and donate.


Better Community Housing Trenton

802 E. State St. Trenton, NJ 08602

Phone: (609) 989-0271

www.bchtrenton.org