Bridging Gaps in Healthcare Accessibility: A Spotlight on Capital Health’s Community-Centric Approach

By Tanzim Didar 

Healthcare is a fundamental need; however, there are many inequities within the system. Almost 13 million people say they know a friend or family member who has died because they couldn’t afford care, according to CBS News.

According to HUD Archives: News Releases, on a single night in January 2020, 580,466 people, about 18 out of every 10,000 people, experienced homelessness across the U.S. — a 2.2% increase from 2019. 

Much of healthcare in the U.S. is not affordable and thus not given equally. However, there are many nonprofit clinics that are dedicated to addressing these disparities.

Katherine Stier, director of marketing and public relations for Capital Health, a nonprofit hospital located in east Trenton among other locations, shared her insights on nonprofits and how they help the community.

Capital Health’s main hospital, which is a level two trauma center, is located on Brunswick avenue in Trenton. They have an additional hospital in Hopewell, which is located across the street from the Trenton airport. 

“I handle the community education events at Capital Health,” Stier said. “I’ve been here for about seven years and Capital Health has been in Trenton for 50 to 80 years.”

Stier, who has worked in healthcare for 25 years, said 90% of hospitals are for profit. 

“As a nonprofit, we don’t really make money,” Stier said. “We always try to take in medicare and medicaid patients, because everyone has a right to care. We also have balance because there are people who have healthcare insurance and they pay, but when you walk into our emergency department, some individuals don’t have health insurance, so we work with individuals to tighten up on a paying system or government substance.”

Stier said Capital Health implements initiatives that helps sure each individual patient is receiving the care they need.

“All in all, we take care of everybody,” she said. “Some hospitals only take some kind of insurance or payers, letting them decide who they can take in or not, but we do not do that here.”

Given the demographics of Trenton, a lot of individuals do not have health insurance or may not be citizens, and are afraid to go to the hospital, so Capital Health tries to take care of many individuals and make them feel comfortable. 

“We also have a mother baby clinic where we take care of people, so there are a lot of different events and care given,” Stier said. “We run a food pantry every week through Arm and Arm and we go to different sites and hand out food. We are really involved in Trenton beauce the CEO is all about Trenton and the community. He feels that with the healthcare system, it’s really our basic goal to be the center of the city because if you’re healthy, you don’t need to go to our ER. We want to keep everyone healthy.”

Since its establishment, Capital Health’s mission statement has never changed. They have always been committed to serving the city of Trenton. 

“I’ve always been in healthcare,” she explained. “So, I started off at a children’s hospital, where 93% of every dollar went towards patient care, so patients don’t need insurance. I would see some of these children come in who were paralyzed and missing a limb, and they would leave with a prosthetic arm, leg at no cost and or even get back surgery, basically things that would help them live their life at a better quality.”

“For me, it’s always been an involved process,” Stier added.”I just see the good there is. The facility is always making sure individuals are fed and getting free screening they need. Some of our doctors are the most compassionate people I have ever met in my life. They give so much of their time and energy to work these free screenings, give lectures and make sure everyone receives what they need. If I can just tell their stories, then I have done my job.” 

Navigating Challenges and Building Bridges at Trenton Area Soup Kitchen

By Tanzim Didar 

In the heart of Trenton, a small but determined group of individuals has diligently been working on improving the community’s living conditions. These individuals are members of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and their mission is to address local issues in the surrounding area. 

TASK is driven by a group of dedicated volunteers who feel compelled to address various community issues. Although their work may not be the most glamorous and their impact, while meaningful, may not take the spotlight, that is not their first priority anyway; they are more focused on the work they do behind the scenes.

According to TASK’s website, the organization served its first meal on January 13, 1982. The organization currently serves 9,000 meals per week at 36 locations near Trenton, and offers a wide variety of programs and  services to help encourage self-sufficiency and improve quality of life.

Patrons Services Specialist Evie Spadafora shared her thoughts and experiences, offering a glimpse into the complex realities faced by patrons.

“I work with volunteers, but the biggest part of my job is patron services. I meet with patrons who come to my window and ask me for everything from who they should talk to about an issue to needing socks or razors,” Spadafora said, describing the multifaceted nature of her role. Her office serves as a central hub where solutions are sought, and assistance is provided to those in need.

Spadafora’s connection with TASK dates back to her days as a girl scout leader.

“I would bring scouts over from Bucks County to do volunteer work,” she explained. Her commitment to community service persisted, leading her to a year of AmeriCorps service when a job transition presented an opportunity to work with TASK. Her journey highlights the diverse paths that bring individuals to serve in critical roles within community organizations like TASK.

The changing demographic landscape of Trenton has presented unique challenges, particularly in fostering cultural understanding.

“The biggest issue right now is cultural understanding,” She said. “The people who have lived in Trenton for years are seeing a sudden influx of Hispanic and central European people, and the languages charged along with the cultural challenges really are heightening people’s moods and the way they are reacting with each other.”

In response, TASK is actively addressing these challenges by incorporating different languages into its services.

“I have taken Spanish, and my French has also improved,” Spadafora notes, underscoring the organization’s commitment to inclusivity.

Spadafora’s personal experiences further shape her approach to demonstrating compassion towards patrons.

“I myself am an immigrant,” Spadafora said. “My parents are German, and I grew up speaking German. So, English is my second language, like a lot of the patrons that come to TASK.”

Her diverse background, including living in various parts of the U.S. and Germany, has exposed her to different cultures.

“I always realized that I am very blessed, but any one of us may need a soup kitchen at any time,” she said, emphasizing the universal vulnerability that transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries.

Spadafora’s work at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen goes beyond mere duty – it embodies a commitment to building bridges between communities, fostering cultural understanding, and providing essential support to those in need. With Spadafora’s guidance, TASK continues to serve as a beacon of hope in Trenton, bridging gaps and fostering a sense of community for all.

TASK has been involved in local charity work as well. They coordinate food drives and fundraisers to support local families in need. These initiatives have helped many residents put food on the table, even if only temporarily. Yet, the deep-rooted poverty issues in the area remain a formidable challenge.

Spadafora succinctly defines TASK’s mission: “We strive to create a welcoming environment where individuals can find not just a hot meal, but also a sense of community and dignity.”

She highlighted the transformative impact on the community.

“Our soup kitchen is not just about providing sustenance; it’s about restoring hope and fostering a sense of belonging,” she said. “We see faces light up when we serve a warm meal, and that, in itself, is a powerful form of outreach.”

Spadafora described the vital role volunteers play at TASK.

“Volunteers are the backbone of our organization,” she said. “They bring an extra layer of warmth and care to the dining experience. Whether serving meals or engaging in conversations, their dedication is truly invaluable. “

“Our mission is not just to feed the hungry but to nourish the soul. Through compassion, understanding, and a commitment to dignity, we aim to make a lasting impact on the lives of those we serve,” said Spadafora, marking TASK’s role as a source of hope, resilience and community in the heart of Trenton.

While their work may not be the solution to all the issues facing Trenton, it’s a reminder that every bit of help counts, even when it does not always make headlines.

Accessibility of Mental Health Support Increased for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

By Tori Duym

In recent times, mental health concerns have grown to be a central focus of society. According to Mental Health America, about 19.86% of people are experiencing some form of mental health battle. Many individuals struggle in silence simply because they do not have access to the proper resources for treatment. Whether it be for financial reasons or lack of information, this can be avoided.

In May 2023,  Gov. Phil Murphy implemented a bill supporting unhoused individuals receiving free and accessible mental health care. Several government officials, such as the Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver and Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman have commented positively on this legislation as they believe mental health should be prioritized for all. 

The New Jersey state government partnered with the NJ Coalition for Ending Homelessness in the process of creating this legislation.

This legislation is an important step in the right direction to provide the wraparound services people experiencing homelessness throughout our state so desperately need,” CEO Connie Mercer said in an article from the Department of Human Services.

Additionally, Mercer County has a mental health division that is committed to serving the community and offering help. This division is another element that works hand-in-hand with the implementation of Murphy’s bill. They can help unhoused individuals easily navigate these new resources and also address the concern of being able to afford the services.

The Division of Mental Health is a county-funded resource, and it plays a role in assisting to enforce the new bill as well, making sure that everyone in need is receiving access to essential mental health resources.

The Division of Mental Health’s mailing address can be found at 640 S. Broad Street in Trenton, NJ, P.O. Box 8068. Michele Madiou, director of mental health for the division, can be reached at The DMH can be reached at 609-989-6574. 

Several emergency shelters in the area including Rescue Mission and others in Mercer County now offer free mental health support for individuals experiencing homelessness. If you or someone you know is in need of support, please do not hesitate to reach out to any of these resources as New Jersey is now required to provide access to mental health support, thanks to the A-4755 bill.

TASK Launches Food Truck to Serve the Community

By Neyssa Deriphonse

In a significant move aimed at expanding their outreach and enhancing support for the Trenton community, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) has recently rolled out a brand new food truck initiative. This innovative project aims to address the evolving needs of the community and provide vital food assistance to those who may face barriers in accessing traditional meal sites. The Streetlight spoke with Paul Jensen, who oversees the day-to-day operations at TASK, and Max Gatto, the Food Truck Coordinator, to delve deeper into the motivations behind this initiative and its potential impact on the community.

The decision to introduce the food truck stemmed from the noticeable changes in different communities throughout the city. “One of our goals was to get to those communities that can’t get to the locations that we physically have,” Jensen said, highlighting the organization’s commitment to reaching those in need.

Gatto’s motivation to lead this endeavor stemmed from his passion for food security.

“I was coming in as a volunteer and found out about the position opening,” he said, reflecting on his dedication to addressing hunger in the community.

The new food truck, which is distinct from TASK’s delivery vehicles, will serve freshly prepared meals directly to individuals in need. Jensen emphasized the truck’s aim to reduce the distance individuals need to travel for a meal. “If we could cut that walk in half or more, it can still make a big difference,” he said, underscoring the organization’s commitment to accessibility and alleviating food insecurity.

Gatto envisions the truck not only as a source of nourishment, but also as a platform for education and awareness about TASK’s comprehensive services. 

“The first thing they’re going to think about is the food that we’re giving out, but there’s going to be a lot of education and spreading awareness,” he said, emphasizing the truck’s potential to foster a deeper understanding of the resources available to the community and empower individuals to access support beyond food assistance.

Regarding assessing the impact of this initiative, Jensen highlighted Gatto’s role in providing assistance in gathering feedback from the community. 

“Max will be out there in the community. Rosa will also come out with him as a community meal site coordinator. She will be helpful to Max as far as establishing metrics… and get information to measure if we’re kind of impacting or making a difference with the truck,” he said, illustrating TASK’s commitment to continuous improvement and responsiveness to the evolving needs of the community.

The collaboration with other organizations, such as Arm and Arm and Capital Health Hospital, underscores TASK’s commitment to community partnerships. 

“We’ve already started to work collaboratively with them (Arm and Arm), as well as with Capital Health as far as providing meals in areas of Trenton,” Jensen said.

Addressing concerns about cultural sensitivity, Paul stressed their dedication to accommodating diverse dietary needs. 

“We try to keep a good mix of different meals so everybody feels like there is something for them to eat,” he said.

Moreover, TASK remains committed to ongoing dialogue with community members to ensure that their dietary preferences and requirements are taken into account. 

“We welcome feedback from individuals and continuously strive to adapt our menu offerings to better meet the diverse needs of our community,” Jensen added, emphasizing the organization’s responsiveness to feedback and commitment to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment.

The food truck launched March 18. It represents a significant step forward in TASK’s mission to combat food insecurity and serve the Trenton community more effectively. With dedicated individuals like Jensen and Gatto at the helm, the initiative promises to make a tangible impact on the lives of those in need.

“Food is comfort for all cultures, it brings families together,” Jensen concluded. 


Hamilton Elks Lodge Strives to Provide for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness

By Tori Duym

On Feb. 7, the Hamilton Elks Lodge hosted an event to raise money and supplies for veterans experiencing homelessness as they help place them in apartments and homes, for the second year in a row. This event was held in conjunction with Business Networking International (BNI) as they work closely with the cause of housing veterans and providing them with the essentials needed to live comfortably. The event used a clever title, “3 hours 2 support 1 homeless veteran at a time,” getting their message across and explaining the event all in one. 

Rose Romaine, the head coordinator of this event through the Elks Lodge, who also has a connection to BNI, poured her heart and soul into organizing such a wonderful night to provide for a worthy cause. Joe Glover, president of the Elks Lodge, expressed his gratitude for all of the hard work Romaine put into the planning and execution of this event. 

“All of the credit goes to Rose, I’m just here to support and help provide veterans with the support they need,” Glover said.

Glover also expressed his gratitude for all of the volunteers and their hard work from everyone it took to make this event possible. He is very passionate about helping the homeless veteran community.

When speaking with Romaine, she provided information as to what goes into the Welcome Home packages that are provided to the veterans. She explained that each package comes with items like furniture, plates, bowls, silverware, bedding and some appliances. Their goal for the night was to raise a minimum of “$7,501, because we did $7,500 last year. . . but I would love to see us raise $10,000 this year.” All funds go directly towards buying “welcome home” packages for veterans experiencing homelessness. 

Business Networking International Area Director for Mercer County, Shawn Donelson, talked passionately about their co-sponsorship of the event, along with BNI’s annual golf tournament, to raise money for the same goal. He explained that this event raised the most money out of all of their events for the cause. 

Donelson emphasizes the importance of providing these welcome home kits to veterans, as he says “When a homeless veteran gets placed into a home, there are a lot of necessities that they need, including things like a bed, furniture, and more.” Welcome home kits include a wide variety of items,with the goal of raising enough money and donations to provide at least two full kits, with their future events continuing to provide more. 

During a conversation with Navy veteran Hank Elmer, he explained the impact of the event from his perspective. He currently serves as the committee chair of veterans, stating that after his tough return home from service, the Elks Lodge “works very hard to make sure veterans now won’t be treated the same way.”

Elmer also explained that the Elks Lodge works closely with the Veterans Association in order to place veterans in small homes or apartments. This process is possible for veterans who have served two years of active duty service and received an honorable discharge. There has been a significant increase in the number of veterans receiving assistance to find a home from last year to this year. According to Elmer, the amount has gone from approximately 12 veterans a month to over 30 now. 

The Elks Lodge has branches all over New Jersey, holding several annual events for veterans and to raise money for those who currently are experiencing homelessness. One of the most popular events, the Jim Hall Memorial Picnic, is held annually in June at the Brick Township Elks Lodge, which Elmer said has a large turnout each year. 

There are many opportunities to get involved or to receive assistance from the Elks Lodge in collaboration with companies such as BNI and other organizations like the Veterans Association. 

Vanessa Solivan Empowers Trenton Families Through New Beginnings Housing Program

By Rebecca Heath

When Trenton native Vanessa Solivan, a mother of three who had long battled housing insecurity, became overwhelmed with rent costs amid the pandemic, the home health aid began to look for avenues to become a homeowner. But as she reached out to numerous organizations, she quickly grew frustrated over the lack of opportunities for low-income individuals and families. 

“Why aren’t we giving people an opportunity? We’re working just as hard. It’s not our fault that these jobs are barely paying a living wage,” Solivan said in an interview with The Streetlight. “Housing should be a right. Why here in the richest, wealthiest country in the world are working mothers with children finding it difficult to follow their dreams?”

Determined to make a difference in her community, Solivan began working with the City of Trenton to spearhead the New Beginnings Housing Program, an initiative that seeks to provide City residents with abandoned houses, and the financial tools to redevelop them, according to The Trentonian. Approximately 1,000 properties around Trenton are abandoned, and while the program is starting small, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora told PBS that expansion is on the horizon to address this crisis. 

“I’m very excited about [the initiative], and I see it having a lot of potential and just kind of inspiring people,” Solivan said. 

Through the pilot program, Solivan gained ownership of 651 North Clinton Ave., her childhood home. 

“It’s not finished yet but I’m still proud to have it the way that it is,” Solivan told The Trentonian.“I’m following in my mother’s footsteps who is the first generation to own a home.”

My mom was the first person in our family to be a homeowner, so to see her working and being responsible and paying the bills and doing everything that she was supposed to do, to this day, I could only want to be like her and be a homeowner,” she said. 

After the construction of her home is completed, Solivan said that the program will move forward with recruiting other families. Through Solivan’s journey, the program facilitators will work out the “kinks,” to ensure a smoother process for future participants. 

“I’m definitely happy with the progress,” Solivan said of the construction process. “We recently just got word that we will start our demolition phase pretty soon. I think that’ll be a very exciting time for not just my family, but the community, because everybody is watching. And they’re very interested to know about the program. So I will be excited to show that we’re moving along, that the program is still alive.”

While people of all ages have expressed interest in the program, Solivan said the population they are primarily targeting is families with children. She emphasized that prospective participants should be employed and have documentation, such as state identification and a W-2 form.

“I want us to be careful with the people that we are choosing and make sure that we have the right candidates that will really want to be a homeowner,” she said. They want to be in the city. They invested in the city. Their children go to the schools here.”

Solivan said that while participants must be able to prove they are ready to embark on homeownership, they aren’t looking for people with a perfect credit score. 

“If that was the case, you wouldn’t need our help,” she said. “We can help them build up their credit and work on all those kinds of things through the financial literacy and the homeownership program.”

While Solivan’s recent advocacy work has centered around housing security, the 38-year-old is no stranger to using her voice to empower her community and catalyze change. In 2018, Solivan began advocating for better pay for home health aids, in addition to fighting to reduce lead in Trenton’s water, soil and air. 

Solivan has also become involved with the Trenton Restorative Street Team, where she has aided in efforts to promote justice and peace in the city. As a board member of the Princeton Justice Initiative, Solivan has also recently hosted share fairs in hopes of providing free legal services for individuals who cannot afford a lawyer. 

Solivan said she considers herself a spokesperson for mothers like herself in Trenton. Though she acknowledged that working with the government to develop the program has been a slow and tedious process, she stressed her determination to continue fighting on behalf of her community. 

“You have to keep pushing. You have to keep fighting. You have to keep making awareness,” she said. “I feel like I’m the voice for the unspoken, these moms that can’t get out there and fight because they’re too busy working to take care of their families.”

Although Solivan is first and foremost committed to supporting the city of Trenton through her initiative, she doesn’t intend on stopping there. She said she hopes to eventually bring the New Beginnings Housing Program to other states, and one day, expand internationally. 

“I feel like I’m slowly but surely spreading my wings and hopefully, I’ll be able to take this to other cities, other states and across the world,” she said. “There’s a lot of people living in poverty and suffering from homelessness, but I always feel we have to start at home first. I made a commitment to my community and I want to be a woman of my word and continue on helping the people.”

As she prepares to further expand her efforts, Solivan emphasized the power of numbers in making her ambitious dreams a reality. 

“Hopefully we can get more investors and more people involved in the city and just rebuild,” she said. “I mean, I can’t do it all alone. New Beginnings can’t do it all alone. But if we all work together, do you know how powerful that would be? So that’s what I’m calling for. In the city of Trenton, we need to come together more and work together.”