‘Wartime footing without military guns and bombs’
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Coronavirus 2020

‘Wartime footing without military guns and bombs’

Jewish agencies mobilize to aid vulnerable populations

Andrea Hyman, wellness director at Greenwood House and Abrams Residence, helps Catherine Fell video chat with her family. Photo by Neil Wise
Andrea Hyman, wellness director at Greenwood House and Abrams Residence, helps Catherine Fell video chat with her family. Photo by Neil Wise

Greenwood House

Well aware of the vulnerability of residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Greenwood House initiated aggressive precautionary measures last month, which have gotten stricter as the spread of Covid-19 has progressed, according to executive director Richard Goldstein.

A screening center has been set up in the lobby where staff and family members — limited to two at a time and restricted to those visiting dying loved ones — complete a questionnaire about potential exposure to Covid-19 and have their temperatures taken. Everyone entering the building must also wear a mask.

Ancillary medical providers, like psychologists and psychiatrists, are not allowed entry “because they are seeing patients across the community,” said Goldstein, and Greenwood House is limiting doctor’s visits to sick residents.

Communal dining has been replaced by people eating in their rooms and group activities have ceased. If a resident leaves the building for other than a medical reason, for example, to visit a relative’s house, they must be in isolation for 14 days upon their return.

“We want people to understand how serious it is,” Goldstein said.

He said he’s seen a change in the mindset of family members in this pandemic, as opposed to past influenza quarantines where, he said, “there is always a percentage of people who get upset.”

“We are not seeing that,” he said. “They understand that this could be life or death, and they are not trying to come in the building.” However, people do say hello through the windows, and staff is helping residents communicate with family members by phone or video chat.

Instead of the annual large seder, which usually includes guests, Goldstein and Neil Wise, director of development, will lead a 30-minute service with residents seated far apart from one another. The building, as usual, will be kashered for Passover.

The kitchen is also used to prepare hundreds of Meals on Wheels for distribution by the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS). “We understand it is crucial,” Wise said.

Greenwood House has spent significant sums on preventative measures — Goldstein estimated around $35,000 to purchase protective equipment for staff and another $5,000 for an extra crew to clean the building.

JFCS continues mental health services, teen programming

“We are doing everything we do normally, but just on steroids,” said Michelle Napell, executive director of JFCS, which is responding to an uptick in mental health issues and food needs, in addition to its usual work of checking in on geriatric clients and keeping teens engaged.

All JFCS clinicians are providing remote counseling, including drop-in hours for those needing to speak with a counselor to manage anxiety, stress, depression, and other mental health effects of Covid-19. (The hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m.-noon and Tuesday and Thursday from 5-7 p.m. Call 609-987-8100 and dial 0 to be connected to an available counselor.)

The only people working out of the office are those involved in food distribution — running kosher Meals on Wheels; delivering prepackaged bags from the Yvette Sarah Clayman Kosher Food Pantry directly to clients’ cars; providing grab-and-go lunches for a senior nutrition program at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville; and keeping the mobile food truck on schedule.

In addition, JFCS procured hundreds of shelf-stable Passover meals and food items from The Orchid, a Glatt kosher restaurant in Metuchen, to deliver to their senior clients. They also continue to deliver “Shabbat On Wheels,” a monthly Shabbat meal for isolated seniors, “to give people some sense of normalcy and connection,” said Napell. Drivers and volunteers are wearing gloves and leaving the food at the door.

JFCS staff and volunteers are reaching out by phone to clients who may feel isolated and have no access to technology.

Teenagers are also struggling.

“Teens in the community do not have many opportunities to talk to each other,” said Celeste Albert, JFCS coordinator of teen programs, so she quickly organized weekly online meetings for students in her teen programs, Gesher LeKesher and Jewish Community Youth Foundation (JCYF).

“Each call I take the pulse of the group through a survey to get a sense of whether people are struggling, overwhelmed, bored, or loving the experience,” Albert said.

Gesher students, she said, are sharing thoughts on topics like how to pass the time, reducing stress via mindfulness, and surviving spring break and Passover celebrations.

JCYF meet-ups — one for eighth and ninth grades, and one for 10th-12th — are opportunities for resource sharing, she said. Students talk about books they are reading, helpful websites, and Albert shares her “pick of the week” among “different resources I found that were cool and would be of interest to teens.” She is hoping to include a mental health professional on occasion, and to share the information the teens have offered in a blog.

JFCS is hosting a virtual J-Serve for teens on April 19 to encourage acts of tzedakah, charity. For example, one activity, through the organization Students Rebuild, is to create “recipe art,” a simple, healthy recipe illustrated with pictures that they will send to JFCS. For each recipe that JFCS sends them, Students Rebuild will donate $3 to hunger.

“We are also going to be talking about isolation and urge teens to create pictures and cards that we can send to clients that are isolated,” Albert said.

Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks

The Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks has been working on three fronts to support synagogues, agencies, and schools in the local community coping with unprecedented levels of need.

The first was to create the Jewish Community Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund of Greater Mercer to aid partner agencies and synagogues that serve the most vulnerable community members. All donations will be matched, dollar for dollar, by federation up to the first $50,000 raised, and 100 percent of the donations will directly fund needs created by the Covid-19 pandemic. $30,000 had been collected as of April 1. (Donations can be made at jewishpmb.org.)

“We don’t know what we’re in for,” said Jerry Neumann, federation president. “This is wartime footing without military guns and bombs.”

He expects to fund increasing services for mental and physical health care, food, and social welfare, and is especially concerned with the vulnerable, at-risk people in the Jewish community: the food-insecure population, individuals with physical and developmental disabilities, seniors, and those experiencing economic hardships.

The second effort is to share information from Jewish Federations of North America about how local synagogues, schools, and agencies can apply for SBA loans from the $350 billion set aside for nonprofits in the Payroll Protection Plan that is part of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The third planned response to Covid-19 will be to schedule virtual community-wide town halls that will feature local health experts with up-to-date information on appropriate precautions against the virus. “There’s a lot of ignorance out there and sloppiness in people’s behavior,” Neumann said.

“The key is to act quickly, decisively, and as a community taking care of the immediate needs … of our most vulnerable members of our Jewish community,” said Neumann, adding that, “[W]orking together as a community, we will achieve more.”

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