Category Archives: Community

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

“It’s All Love” at Stockton 51: The A-TEAM Gives Back

Article By Jared Wolf – Photography by Jared Kofsky

Sixteen years ago, a small group of visual artists met with Extra Helpings volunteer, Susan Darley, to discuss the possibility of forming an art cooperative within the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). Founded in 2001, Extra Helpings was a small art program designed to alleviate the stresses of poverty by encouraging artistic expression.

The small collection of amateur artists came to be known as the A-TEAM, eventually morphing into the Trenton Community A-TEAM (formerly know as TCAT), which recently opened Stockton 51, a neighborhood art center within a previously abandoned two-story carriage house at 51 North Stockton Street in Downtown Trenton. The space was given to the A-TEAM by Isles Inc., a Wood Street nonprofit organization that is working to establish an arts district in the surrounding community.

Today, the Stockton 51 art studio is a popular haven for a number of local painters, sketchers, musicians, and sculptors to unwind from the vices of urban life in America, and simply create.

In its earliest form, TCAT was designed to offer an open facility to those who possessed creative talents or an interest in the arts, but it did not have the necessary resources to pursue its creative endeavors. Darley wished to create a “collegial environment in which they [the artists] could hone their creative abilities.”

The goal: sell artwork and realize the benefits of seeing hard work come to life.

From the beginning, the artists decided how the A-TEAM would operate and which projects it would undertake. In this way, “membership in the group also provided an opportunity for the artists to learn entrepreneurial skills,” said Darley.

Membership expanded, and the walls of TASK quickly became an open display of their work. Over the years, the ‘A-TEAM Artists of Trenton’ have participated in hundreds of shows. From displays in museums and galleries to corporate offices and government agencies, the A-TEAM has seen their pipe dream become reality

Moreover, the A-TEAM artists have given back to the Trenton community in a multitude of ways, by lending work to local businesses and non-profit groups, or by leading monthly art workshops for residents of the Rescue Mission of Trenton and patrons at The Arc Mercer.

The artists have also hosted clients from the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital’s art therapy program in their studio. And just last summer, Stockton 51 hosted a community cookout in which over 2,000 people attended. During the event, which was funded by TASK, the studio gave out over 1,000 hamburgers and hot dogs

This is one of the countless examples of how this facility has given back to its community.

One artist in particular has had a profound impact on the A-TEAM family. Self-taught artist Walter Roberts, Jr. learned how to shade from his sixth grade math teacher. His teacher told him that if he taught him how to shade, he had to start paying attention.Today, Roberts is celebrating over twenty years as a member of the A-Team and considers his ability to shade his greatest strength.

Derrick Branch, another self-taught artist, has been with the A-TEAM for over ten years. A bass guitarist, Branch helped begin a music program within the TCAT crew and hopes to see it expand in the coming years.

Branch, in collaboration with other musicians, has made several hip-hop compositions, in addition to rehearsed renditions of prominent Jazz scores from musicians like Duke Ellington.

From what started as a few friends seeking extra community services at TASK has transformed into a playground for the disenfranchised. Roberts described Stockton 51 as “a sanctuary in the city” from which “anything can be thought.”

For many of the teens who go to the studio to paint, draw, build, jam, sketch, or create, Stockton 51 is a healthy way to stay off of the streets and out of trouble. Well equipped with tools and gadgets, artists can spend endless hours creating and composing.

Roberts recalled several nights where he and other artists worked until 8 in the morning to complete some of their more complex pieces. Roberts’ was happy to share one of his proudest pieces: a portrait of the 20th century academic and activist Angela Davis. Roberts’ worked for five straight days without sleep to compete the piece—his desire for perfection acting as the sole motivation to stay awake.

When asked if he could name a few of the artists who come to Stockton 51, Roberts simply responded, “I can name a billion of ‘em”. The studio has become a symbol of the community, and a representation of the beautiful art that can emerge from the struggles of a childhood in the city. “It’s all love,” he said. “Giving kids a place to openly express themselves distracts them from the jungle.”

Looking forward, TCAT hopes to go three-dimensional: the artists want to pursue projects that don’t just hang on walls. They are looking to create statues, T-shirts, clothing, and jewelry.

With new projects and ideas constantly flooding in, TCAT will continue to change and expand. A gift shop is currently being built at Stockton 51 and the artists are always redefining their image, both as creators, and as contributors to the community.

If you are interested in buying art or would like to reach out to one of the artists/directors, please go to their website at www.trentoncommunityateam.org.


 

Stockton 51

51 North Stockton Street Trenton, NJ

trentoncommunityateam.org

(609) 421-0793

City Agency Keeps Trenton Residents Healthy

By Maksymilian Popinski

For many, the past few months have been about scrambling to get the flu shot and scheduling checkups before the fall weather goes from brisk to frosty. For individuals experiencing homelessness in Trenton and elsewhere in the state, the reality is very different.

Compared to 2015, the homeless population in New Jersey has declined by over 12 percent, but this is not the case in Trenton. Currently, the number of individuals seeking assistance as a result of  homelessness. “People come on the River Line from other areas because we have the Rescue Mission and we have the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen,” Director James A. Brownlee of the Department of Health and Human Services for the City of Trenton said.

A number of these individuals are experiencing substance abuse problems or other mental health issues. And Trenton is having an increasingly difficult time accommodating the influx. The Trenton Department of Health and Human Services is a member of the Trenton Health Team, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that includes Capital Health, St. Francis Medical Center, and the Henry J. Austin Health Center (their only federally qualified health center). The four entities collaborate to provide medical services for individuals experiencing homelessness throughout the county.

Together, these entities locate and provide medical evaluations of incoming homeless patrons, and continue to track them throughout the year. They also coordinate an outreach program that seeks out at-risk individuals who are on the brink of experiencing homelessness, have deteriorating medical conditions, or are at the mercy of inclement weather.

The Department of Health and Human Services works alongside the different groups to monitor communicable diseases (such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis) within the city’s homeless population, as well. It also works to contain infection and helps individuals procure antiretroviral drugs, antibiotics, or other medicines they may need, as well. Its initiatives also address a wide slew of chronic conditions, including cardiac disease, diabetes, and drug and alcohol addiction.

Those who have these serious medical conditions are put in touch with Henry J. Austin Health Center. As a federally qualified health care clinic, Henry J. Austin is partially funded by the federal government to provide primary, as well as preventative health care, to individuals experiencing homelessness. These services include oral health, psychological/behavioral health, and specialized geriatric care for the increasing number of elderly persons experiencing homelessness.

The Department of Health and Human Services also collaborates with Anchor House, a non-profit that locates and supports juveniles experiencing homelessness who may also be facing dangers like abuse/neglect, pregnancy, and susceptibility to illicit substances. Anchor House coordinates with the Trenton Health Team to provide medical services to the adolescents that the organization works with.

As the cold winter weather approaches, the Department of Health and Human Services works around the clock in partnerships across Mercer County to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness are receiving the medical supports they need to be healthy.

UEZ Program Ends in New Jersey

By Jared Kofsky

A decades-long program allowing individuals to purchase items at a lower tax rate in cities like Trenton has ended.

New Jersey’s Urban Enterprise Zone program (UEZ) was established more than 30 years ago, and served dozens of municipalities across the state, from West New York to West Wildwood. Under the program, customers at local businesses paid only a 3.5 percent retail sales tax as opposed to the state standard of seven percent in other areas of New Jersey. However, Governor Chris Christie was not in favor of continuing the operation of the UEZ, and allowed it to expire on December 31.

Trenton residents experiencing homelessness or poverty could be impacted greatly by the end of the UEZ program. Participating businesses were required to have 25 percent of new employees be city residents, to have been unemployed for at least six months before being hired, to be recipients of public assistance programs for at least six months before being hired or be determined to be of low-income, according to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. And while the tax increase could raise funds for the state, the increased cost of items at city stores could take more out of the pockets of local residents, and could also reduce the incentive for outsiders to visit and spend money in the city.

Despite this, Christie has stated that UEZs were a “failed 30-year experiment,” adding that keeping them  “would cost the state $2.33 billion in lost revenue over the next 10 years,” according to NJTV. The governor has not announced plans to replace the UEZ with another program.

When the end of the UEZ was announced, many Trentonians, and local officials were outraged. Trenton’s UEZ program website cites multiple success stories from businesses across the city. John Ahn, the manager of the Food Bazaar supermarket at the Roebling Market in Chambersburg stated that the 3.5 percent sales tax “provides an added incentive for local customers to visit the store.”

Mayor Eric Jackson spoke exclusively with The Wall regarding the issue shortly before the program ended. “It [the UEZ] certainly is a tool in our tool belt for economic development when you talk about preservation to help bring people in as incentive to come into a great capital city,” said Jackson.

He added that ending the UEZ would leave a “negative impact” on the city. Similarly, State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who represents Trenton told the Press of Atlantic City in September that “ending the UEZ program is going to force hundreds of establishments to close or move.”

Shortly before the program was set to expire, there was a last minute effort by several elected officials to extend it for two years in Bridgeton, Camden, Newark, Plainfield, and Trenton. However, the extension bill was vetoed in February by Christie. 

Since the program was established in the 1980s, many local economies have been built around UEZs and thousands of residents have relied on these businesses. As the first year without UEZs in decades continues, the economic wellbeing and prosperity of cities like Trenton and the future of business in New Jersey’s urban centers remains uncertain.