Category Archives: Sufficiency

Mercer Street Friends: Trenton Digital Initiative Gets Tech Savvy

By Anna Mucciarone

While walking down a bustling city street in the morning, you might pass some people who are talking loudly into their phone and others with headphones plugged into both ears, listening to music. As you’re walking, you might even take out your own phone to send a few quick text messages before arriving at your destination. What you might not notice while walking down the street is the number of people you pass that aren’t using a phone, possibly because they can’t afford one. In today’s society, most people tend to focus more on the growing technology addiction than the reality of the digital divide. While Internet access is a rite of passage for many people, there is a portion of the population that can’t afford to buy the latest iPhone or Internet connection. For those that live in Mercer County, evidence of the digital divide is apparent right in their backyards. Of the 85,000 citizens that call Trenton home, a significant number do not own a computer. With the Internet becoming more of a staple in our society every year, these families are being limited to what they can participate in with regards to school and their careers. For the families of Trenton and surrounding areas that find themselves in this situation, a section of the non-profit organization Mercer Street Friends may be able to help. This program, called the Trenton Digital Initiative (TDI), is working to slowly end the digital divide in the local community by distributing free computers to families that are in need of one. At its start, the Trenton Digital Initiative was a small idea being launched by tech-savvy founders, Dave Zboray and Glenn Paul. “We were just talking about how we could use our computer skills to help others,” said Zboray, who is now an IT specialist at Mercer Street Friends. “We came up with the idea we called ‘100 Computers for 100 Mercer Street Friends: Trenton Digital Initiative Gets Tech Savvy Families,’ which we would later rename the ‘Trenton Digital Initiative.’” Since it began in 2012, TDI has established a partnership with Mercer Street Friends and distributed 350 computers to families in need. In addition, TDI works to educate both youth and adults on basic computer skills. “We didn’t want to just hand out computers,” said Zboray, emphasizing the importance of offering these classes.  “So we have included training with each computer we distribute.” The computer education classes are offered through the Youth Services Program and Parenting Program at Mercer Street Friends. By signing up for either set of classes, families gain the opportunity to expand their knowledge of computers and technology. Another major concern for families that are struggling to make ends meet is being able to afford a stable Internet connection. With help from TDI, those families can connect to a special plan offered by Comcast. For just $9.95 per month, they can put their computers to use. The mission Statement for Mercer Street Friends is, “Bridging opportunity gaps…helping families and communities make the journey out of poverty.” TDI exemplifies this statement by providing local families with the opportunity to take home a computer of their own and support their Internet connection with an affordable plan. With each computer they distribute, the Trenton Digital Initiative is helping to end the digital divide within the Trenton community.

Mercer Street Friends 151 Mercer Street, Trenton, NJ 08611 Phone: (609) 396-1506

Isles Promotes Self-Reliance

By Annette Espinoza

Sprouting from Wood Street in Central Trenton, Isles is an organization focused on supporting families and communities in the area. The program’s ideals have not changed since it was first established by a group of enthusiastic students from Princeton University in 1981. Hoping to rebuild what was damaged while upholding the vibrant and persistent spirit of the Trenton community, these students came in with big ideas that are now the basis for the organization’s efforts and work. Working alongside other local organizations and groups, Isles focuses on four elements in their plight to build thriving, stable communities: educating communities and training individuals, revitalizing the community, building community wealth and promoting healthy living. As the pillars to their organizations, these four focal points have already mobilized hundreds of eager volunteers. Together, this group of individuals creates and implements projects that facilitate community progress. Such projects include rescuing families who face foreclosure, restoring and establishing an art house, planting community gardens, among many others. These initiatives address many of Trenton’s biggest challenges. “From [the] beginning Isles kept asking and testing a basic question: What are the most effective ways to promote self-reliance and healthy communities while building on the assets that are already there?” reads its brochure. “It’s an effort to support the Trenton area but, also, an effort that considers the bigger picture,” John Korp, Isles’ director of community planning and development, said.


“Strike Out Hunger” Combats Summertime Food Insecurity

By Aphrael Boltas

Summertime means a lot of things: warm weather, longer days, trips to the beach, vacations and lying poolside. And for many students, it means a break from school. However, for a growing number of people, the absence from school leads to something else: food insecurity.

The number of children eligible for free and reduced meals has been steadily rising. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2012, more than half of the nation’s children attending public schools were eligible for the free and reduced lunch program.

This means that during the eight weeks of summer when children are no longer going to school and receiving free breakfast and lunch, parents must determine how to fill the gap.

Untangled by Charles Smith
Untangled by Charles Smith

While there are several year- round options for families and individuals to receive food assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), and food banks across the country, it is important to understand how the gap is bridged during the summer.

As someone who personally received free or reduced lunch for my four years at a Trenton public high school, with three siblings ranging from ages five to 12 who were also in the Trenton school system, I was entirely unaware that summer food assistance programs existed. Had I known, this could have made a major difference when it came time for my parents to decide to devote more money to the food budget and where to take it from.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a major summer assistance program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides free meals and snacks during the summer months to children across the United States. The program includes three different sites: an open site, which operates in low income areas (areas where half of children come from families at or below 85 percent of the poverty level) and is able to provide free meals to all children. The second site, an enrolled site, provides free meals to any child enrolled in an activity at the program (at least half of children must be eligible for free or reduced lunch for the program to be eligible). Campsites, the third type of site, receive reimbursement for meals provided to children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Anyone can search for a food service site in their area by using the Summer Food Rocks website, operated by the Food and Nurtition sevice (FNS). The website lists local sites and specifies their type and their times of operation.

Sunflowers In The Wind by Joann Abdelwahbe
Sunflowers In The Wind by Joann Abdelwahbe

In June, 2015 United Way of Greater Mercer County held an event called “Strike Out Hunger” where participants packaged oatmeal to distribute to food banks across New Jersey. Denise Daniels, who coordinated the event, said that “Strike Out Hunger” was a “way to bring awareness to the issue as well as supply food banks with much needed breakfast at the end of June when kids no longer have free lunch or breakfast.”

Daniels also spoke about the fact that during the summer months, in particular,  families rely on food banks. And in comparison to Thanksgiving and Christmas time, there are far fewer donations. Participants at the event made 9,000 packages of oatmeal (75,000 servings), with three different food banks receiving 3,000 packages each. When United Way followed up with these food banks, they were told that all 9,000 packages were gone within two to three weeks.


United Way of Greater Mercer County

“Strike Out Hunger” June 2016

Phone: (609) 896-1912

Providing Stability: The Crisis Ministry of Mercer County

By Shai Bejerano

“Partnering with our community to achieve stability for our neighbors in need.” — Crisis Ministry, Mission Statement

The Crisis Ministry of Mercer County, located on Hanover Street and Clinton Avenue in Trenton, NJ, as well as Nassau Street in Princeton, NJ, offers a support system for those who need it. It has a variety of services designed to help individuals who are struggling with poverty, or simply making ends meet and improving their quality of life.

“Most of the people that come have a one-time financial crisis, because of unemployment or poor health,” said Sarah Unger, Communications and Development Director. “They are generally steady and stable in their home.”

The services are split into four parts: housing stability and homelessness prevention, hunger prevention and nutrition education, workforce development, and license to succeed.

Housing Stability and Homelessness Prevention

Meant for families and individuals facing foreclosure or eviction, this program is designed to keep people in their homes. Crisis Ministry offers emergency financial aid for things like utilities and security deposits. In order to be eligible, individuals need to bring three things with them to the Crisis Ministry: a photo ID, an eviction notice, and proof of income for one month.

The housing stability management program also works one-on-one with clients. It allows clients to stay in touch with a case manager, and fosters a mentor-mentee relationship that teaches them the basics of budgeting and finance. In addition, it can connect clients to different services that they may not yet be connected with. The goal is to strive for long-term housing stability, and Crisis Ministry will help every client the best they can to ensure that this happens.

“Of the people we serve 85 percent are still stably housed, six months to a year after we’ve given them assistance,” said Cynthia Mendez, the Director of the Housing Stability Programs.

Tweeting by Mary Shannon
Tweeting by Mary Shannon

Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Education

Much like the housing stability program, this service seeks to offer food stability to families and individuals that may not have much money to spend on food. However, instead of offering monetary assistance, the Ministry has Client Choice pantries in its three locations stocked with food to give to those who visit. They promote nutrition among low-income families by providing a wide variety of healthy produce and groceries.

In addition to offering health screenings and educational programs on nutrition for the patrons, Crisis Ministry offers personal hygiene necessities such as shampoo, toothpaste and soap.

Workforce Development

The Trenton locations of Crisis Ministry offer a training and education program known as Harvesting Hope. The program aims to qualify individuals for jobs in retail and other areas by providing them with job experience through working for the Ministry. It also offers them the opportunity to take online courses and career workshops to help them become more marketable to employers. Many of the graduates of Harvesting Hope have gone on to become employees at other establishments, or to obtain higher education.

License to Succeed

Working hand-in-hand with the Workforce Development, this service helps restore drivers’ licenses to people whose licenses may have been revoked due to an inability to pay fines for tickets or license renewals. It gives partial financial aid to offset the cost of the fees, and works with clients to come up with a manageable payment plan. With the help of License to Succeed, those individuals regained the freedom of driving, which improves job prospects and other qualities of life.

The services offered by the Crisis Ministry offers are excellent and vastly improve the lives of those using them. However, benefits of the Crisis Ministry do not stop at people in need. The Crisis Ministry also offers opportunities for people eager to get involved and make a difference.

One way to get involved with this organization is to volunteer.

“We consider our volunteers to be so essential to what we do. The fact that many of them come week to week to work, that kind of dedication I think, comes from the fact that they feel so welcome here. The welcome that we offer to our clients is the welcome that we offer to everyone,” said Unger.

Volunteering can be done onsite at the Crisis Ministry locations around Mercer County through assisting clients who visit or the administrative staff. Volunteering can also be done off-site by giving donations, conducting food drives, doing fundraising events, or helping out with inventory sorting, among other things.

The help of donations and volunteers is what has kept the Crisis Ministry successful in its mission for the past several years. Through its existence, a tremendous number of lives and neighborhoods in Mercer County have been changed for the better

Crisis Ministry of Mercer County

Phone: (609) 396-9355

Locations and Hours

123 East Hanover St. Trenton, NJ 08608

Food Pantry: M – F: 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Homelessness Prevention: M: 9 a.m. – noon; W: 1 – 3 p.m.; Th: 9 a.m. – noon

716 S. Clinton Ave. Trenton, NJ 08611

Food Pantry: M – F: 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.

61 Nassau Street Princeton, NJ 08542

Food Pantry: M, W & Th: 1:30 p.m. – 4 p.m.; T: 1:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Homelessness Prevention: M, W, Th 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.; T: 4 p.m. – 6 p.m

A Personal Narrative: “Not All Bad Here.”

By Essence B. Scott


The experience with homelessness I remember most clearly was when my family lived in the Trails End Motel when I was eight and a half, almost nine, years old.


Imagine: You are in the middle of nowhere, on the side of the highway. A few minutes up was a diner. Nothing in the way of grocery stores or laundromats. New Jersey Transit didn’t serve this area of New Jersey we were in, so getting into Trenton, where we were from, was difficult. The only way we could get to Trenton was by taking a cab, and that was pricey: $60 for four people.


When we were homeless, people were kind, which made the experience less painful.


My room mother from my elementary school came to the motel my family was staying in and gave us toys. Things had gone wrong with the money my mom had saved up that Christmas. It was our first Christmas in a place not quite a home, and we weren’t expecting to have anything. This mother and her daughter, who was one of my friends, came at night and bought us all these toys. I will never forget that. I think that’s the kindest thing anyone has ever done for my family.


My school nurse gave us gift certificates, which we used at the diner up the street.


We ate at that diner every time we got a certificate and we would order breakfast: pancakes mostly, but anything was a break from the canned goods we ate daily. The diner was small, but everyone there was really nice.


While homelessness is clearly nothing that should be celebrated, I remember my mom had made the experience a little less hard on my siblings and me.


We couldn’t do much because we were in the middle of nowhere. But the memories I do have are of my mom working hard at being a cleaning lady, of visiting one woman who also lived in the motel, of playing with the occasional child who lived there, the people on the outside who would help us.


I was never abused or neglected, and living in a motel is not something I am eager to experience again, but I remember my mom who was always trying to make it a little better for us.


Getting our own apartment after that was like stepping into an air-conditioned room in the middle of August.


We could have meals like meatloaf or meatballs. We could have ice cream. We could have cereal and soda and whatever else we wanted because we finally had a refrigerator. We had our own beds. We had cable — lots of channels, most I’d never heard of. Soap Network? HBO Family? An East and a West channel, meaning I could watch the same show twice?


All of this was so strange, so surreal. But I loved it. Finally, a bed to myself! More space! What could be better than that?

"Seaside High"  By Sharon Jackson
“Seaside High”
By Sharon Jackson