In mid-March when it became clear the COVID-19 Pandemic would have a devastating impact on the communities served by Mercer Street Friends, the organization determined that Food Bank programs and operations would require immediate expansion. Hundreds of individuals, private foundations, and businesses have stepped forward with financial and volunteer support to lend a hand in making and distributing emergency weekend meal bags in Trenton and the surrounding community. Within the first few days of the crisis, Mercer Street Friends was the beneficiary of extraordinary financial and facility support from Princeton Area Community Foundation, NJM Insurance Group, Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (three of Greater Trenton’s board member organizations), and Wegmans Food Markets.
Bernie Flynn, CEO of Mercer Street Friends, stated, “At the onset of this pandemic, the Princeton Area Community Foundation announced the creation of a COVID-19 relief and recovery fund and NJM was among several organizations contributing to this effort. Due to Princeton Area Community Foundation’s prompt action and a streamlined grant process, it is already distributing emergency funding to organizations like Mercer Street Friends.” NJM also offered some of its warehouse space right next door to the Food Bank enabling the expansion of Mercer Street’s essential operations.
In addition, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation provided an emergency grant to Mercer Street Friends as part of their COVID-19 response efforts to support their community partners. Their team made the grant request on behalf of Mercer Street Friends, so the staff could better spend their time serving the organization’s mission. This was a welcome and needed gift and further exemplified the proactive support of the organization’s corporate partners during this crisis.
This week, Mercer Street Friends received word from Wegmans Food Markets, a loyal participant in Mercer Street Friends Food Bank Check-Out Hunger efforts, that the organization would receive additional support as a part of Wegmans partner Food Bank initiatives.
Princeton Area Community Foundation, a long time funding partner of Mercer Street Friends, is helping to underwrite the cost of the first few weeks of emergency weekend food bags given to families throughout Trenton, as well as providing funding for the Food Bank’s deep cleaning program to keep staff, volunteers and recipients of the Food Bank goods safe. “Mercer Street Friends is providing a vital service to our community during this crisis,” said Jeffrey M. Vega, President & CEO of the Princeton Area Community Foundation. “Thanks to the generosity of dozens of individual philanthropists, as well as private foundations and companies, our COVID-19 Relief & Recovery Fund is able to quickly provide financial support to the terrific local nonprofits, such as Mercer Street Friends, that are helping our most vulnerable neighbors.”
In addition to NJM’s support of Princeton Area Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Fund, its generous offer of additional warehouse space has enabled Mercer Street Friends to expand its footprint to meet the surge in demand for food. “The Trenton area is fortunate to have organizations like Mercer Street Friends that are making a positive impact at a time of unprecedented hardship for so many,” said Mitch Livingston, NJM President and CEO. “NJM is a long-time supporter of Mercer Street Friends and we are sincerely grateful for their philanthropic efforts.”
Mr. Flynn noted that on Friday, March 20, 2020, Mercer Street Friends, in collaboration with the Trenton School District and Aramark Food Services, provided 460 emergency weekend food bags to families in need. The following Friday, 975 bags were given out and on Friday, April 3 distribution grew to 1,030. Emergency food bags over these three weeks, designed to feed a family of four, have provided families in Trenton over 39,000 meals to date. The increase in facility capacity directly supports the plan to not only continuously purchase food, but also to maintain a reserve of shelf inventory to face the immediate challenge of a growing need.
In her email Mercer Street Friends, Michele Marinaro, Community Relations Coordinator at Wegmans Food Markets noted, “At times like these, everyone is called on to come together and support one another. One of our highest giving priorities is providing food for people at risk of hunger. We will continue to support our partners and adapt as needed.”
“These four organizations are stalwarts in our philanthropic community,” added Flynn. “Mercer Street Friends remains grateful for their partnership and leadership during an incredibly difficult time.”
For over six decades Mercer Street Friends has addressed the cyclical issue of hunger and poverty in Mercer County. The organization reaches over 60,000 individuals and families annually and focuses on four Core Impact Centers:
Food Bank Center for Nutritional Health & Wellness – the primary source of government and privately donated food targeted for hunger relief programs throughout Mercer County. In 2019, the Food Bank channeled more than 4.5 million pounds of food to a network of 130 food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, meal sites, senior centers, programs for the disabled and low income housing sites.
Community Schools – Mercer Street Friends is the leader in the Community Schools movement in Trenton and one of the most well known in the State of New Jersey. In collaboration with the Trenton Board of Education, Mercer Street Friends has partnered with Luis Munoz Rivera Community Middle School and B.C. Gregory Elementary School working to provide mental and physical health care, social and academic services to promote the well-being of students and families and seeking to ensure that children are prepared to learn. A Community School is both a place and a set of partnerships between schools and other community resources with an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement that leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.
Early Childhood Education – Mercer Street Friends provides a high quality early childhood education at little to no cost to children ages three to five who reside in Trenton. A staff of certified teachers provide young children with a safe, caring and nurturing environment paired with an innovative curriculum.
Parent & Family Engagement – offers programs that bring together the community and, most importantly, families to comprehensively address the physical, financial, social/emotional and developmental needs of individuals and families who have experienced trauma.
The Princeton Area Community Foundation, in partnership with the Burke Foundation, awarded more than $600,000 in grants to 16 local nonprofit organizations that are working to address critical needs in communities in the greater Mercer County area including a $50,000 award to Greater Trenton to advance economic development and revitalization projects, especially in downtown Trenton.