Tag Archives: Mercer County

Covid Cannot Stop Meals On Wheels

By Hannah Keyes

Meals on Wheels of Mercer County (MOWMC) is one of the more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country that seeks to address both the nutritional and social needs of its participants. This includes homebound elderly and disabled individuals who cannot shop for or prepare food for themselves and are often living in hunger and isolation.

According to a new survey conducted by Meals on Wheels (MOW) of America, every 4 out of 5 MOW programs have reported that their demand has at least doubled since the start of COVID-19. Given the current situation of the pandemic, those who are older and more susceptible to sickness are at higher risk and are extremely vulnerable during this time. There are now more seniors staying in their homes and requiring help.

Additional studies from MOW of America reveal that 1 in 4 seniors live alone and 1 in 5 feel lonely. Thus, MOW makes it a priority to see to it that their participants not only receive warm meals but that they are greeted by a friendly face. The program relies heavily on their volunteers who deliver meals as they not only give participants their food but interact with them and form meaningful relationships. Sasa Olessi Montaño, the Chief Executive Officer of the Mercer County branch, as well as a member who serves on the national board of Meals on Wheels of America stated, “Our secret sauce is that daily contact.”

However, the virus has caused the staff of MOWMC to have to adjust their normal operations. All volunteers are now required to wear masks and gloves as they provide a “touchless delivery”, wherein they knock on the participant’s door or window, hang the meal (in a bag) on the door, and walk away at least six feet and wait to make eye contact with the participant so that they know they will get their meal. There has also been a calling feature implemented where more seasoned volunteers will call participants and check-in to see how they are doing. This provides the “secret sauce” of daily interaction that is missing from the new touchless delivery. Additionally, MOWMC is participating in the new “Feed a Senior, Help a Restaurant” and “Hospitality Works” programs. These are a means through which to provide for seniors, local restaurants, and hardworking medical staff.

The MOWMC delivers meals in East Windsor, Ewing, Hightstown, Princeton, Trenton, West Windsor, Lawrence, and specific areas within Hamilton. The program is funded federally, however, it is significantly underfunded and is mostly aided through community support. Private dollars are raised in order to ensure that no one is turned away. MOWMC is partnered with Gourmet Dining at Rider University to provide hot meals to its participants Monday through Friday every week. Weekend meals can also be made available to participants. There are two different meal plan options (A and B), they both consist of one hot meal that includes meat/pasta and two sides, as well as one cold bag that includes milk, bread, salad, and dessert. All meals are low sodium and diabetic friendly and can be catered towards the individual’s dietary restrictions.
Olessi Montaño labels MOW as a “comprehensive nutrition program” rather than simply a social service program. It offers nutrition education and counseling for those who have limited food options or are immuno-compromised. Olessi Montaño states, “Our meals are therapeutic in nature, which means that we work with our participants to identify their diets. Whatever their therapeutic need is, our meals are tailored to it and we work with them on that.”
In addition to home-delivered meals, MOWMC offers several other smaller programs such as their Pet Pantry where bi-weekly pet food bags are distributed to participants who own animals. The Books on Wheels program allows volunteers to deliver books to participants through the Trenton Public Library. There are also “Holiday Meals” for participants who will be alone during the holidays, “Blizzard Bags” for inclement weather, and shelf-stable groceries that are delivered once a month.

If one is interested in being served through or volunteering for Meals on Wheels, please contact through email, info@mealsonwheelsmercer.org, or call (609)-695-3483.

Trenton Water Works Disappoints Once Again

By Gabrielle Wells

There are over 83,000 people living in Trenton, New Jersey alone, and in this densely populated city, thousands of people rely on the Trenton Water Works (TWW) to supply them with clean drinking water. TWW describes itself as one of the largest publicly owned urban water utilities in America. According to their website, they supply 27 million gallons of Delaware River Sourced drinking water per day to thousands of customers located in the Mercer County area. Their geographical reach includes Trenton, parts of Hamilton Township, Ewing Township, Lawrence Township, and Hopewell Township, often reaching around 225,000 people.

Although TWW states that their goal is to supply clean drinking water to thousands of residents in Mercer County, they have often fell short of this goal. Over the years, residents have complained about contamination, discoloration, and boil water advisories and TWW’s lack of communication in alerting its consumers about the hazards of their water content. One constant and recurring problem is their repeated Boil Water Advisory Notices. The most recent Boil Water Advisory was issued September 27th, 2019. This notice stated, “Trenton Water Works is advising residents in Trenton, Hamilton Township, Ewing Township, Lawrence Township, and Hopewell Township to boil your water until further notice. Chlorination levels (a water disinfection process) are too low due to an equipment malfunction in TWW’s water-distribution system. TWW personnel are working to rectify the problem.” The notice then went on to advise residents to feed household pets with bottled water, to not swallow water while in the shower, and to continue to boil water in order to make sure that all bacteria are killed.

Even though the boil water advisory was issued in September 2019, residents still complained in December about the quality of water coming from their pipes, claiming that water was coming out of the taps purple or pink, which TWW explained was due to a water treatment chemical that was safe to ingest.
The constant testing has unearthed a much bigger problem, which is the presence of lead in the drinking water. According to TWW’s lead program, lead can get in the water via old lead services lines already connecting older homes and buildings to the water main. As water travels through these service lines, the corrosion on the lines add lead into the treated water leading to contamination of water delivered to consumers. Lead can be very toxic and as a result the EPA requires that every water system must contain no more than 15 parts of lead per billion in tap water. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that no amount of lead ingestion is safe.
According to the Trenton Water Works Annual Consumer Confidence Report for 2019, 12 out of 102 areas tested revealed to have 19.7 parts per billion of lead located in the water from January to June. From July to December, 12 out of 106 areas tested revealed to have 17 parts per billion of lead located in the water. These results are way over the limit of the EPA guidelines and can have damaging effects on the population.

Constant ingestion of lead can have many negative health effects and can even prove to be deadly. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, levels of lead in water systems should be at zero because lead can bioaccumulate over time and become harmful to the body. The most at-risk population to exposure is young children and infants due to the fact that lower exposure than adults can still prove to have significant physical and behavioral effects. The EPA states that lead exposure can cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, shorter stature, learning disabilities, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.According to the EPA’s website, low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in future behavior and learning problems, lower IQ , hyperactivity, anemia, hearing problems, and slow growth. In rare cases ingestion can cause coma, seizures and even result in death in children. In adults lead exposure can lead to cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure, decreased kidney function, and reproductive problems.

On January 9th, 2020 Trenton Mayor W. Reed Gusciora officially started the Trenton Water Works $150-million Lead Service Line Replacement Program in efforts to protect residents from lead in their water. According to TWW website, this program will include upgrades to the water-filtration plant and water-distribution system, decentralized water storage, in-house engineering, improved security, control technology, facilities upgrades, and heavy equipment replacements. Mayor Gusciora stated, “Our plan is to remove all lead services from TWW’s system within five years, in addition to making significant upgrades to TWW’s water-filtration plant, water-distribution system, and facilities.” The new program will replace around 36,700 lead and galvanized steel water service lines within five years. In December, construction has already started to fix the lead lines, ahead of the official announcement from Mayor Gusciora and will continue for the next couple of years. One can only wonder if Trenton Water Works will deliver on its promise or once again fail the people of Trenton and other townships.

The Census Counts on You

By Kristine Spike

Once every ten years, the U.S. government conducts the census. This started back in 1790 and is critical as the census accounts for numerous aspects. Often argued to be the most notable is the fact that the census is responsible for the number of seats each state receives in the House of Representatives. However, the census also determines the amount of government funding different areas receive. This includes programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP), etc. One issue with the census presents itself time and time again. Are individuals being underrepresented or missed in the census count? This directly correlates to the amount of funding that areas receive, and it is no coincidence that the underrepresented areas are the ones that lack a multitude of resources, as well as areas with a large number of people experiencing homelessness.

For the first time in history the census is now available online. This is revolutionary and makes the census more accessible to millions of people; however, this still poses a huge problem. There are an estimated 19 million Americans who do not have fixed broadband services. That being said, efforts have been made in Mercer County to make sure that everyone is accounted for through Complete Count Committees. People need to know that the census is taking place before they can worry about filling it out. The federal government has commercials, and mail advertisements, but for people with limited internet/TV access and no mailing address, these are not effective measures.

Complete Count Committees in Mercer County have utilized resources such as ad space on billboards,in bus terminals, and on busses themselves, and have canvassed at various community locations. The advertisements are marketed to certain target groups. They specifically incorporate messages for groups that have had low response rates in the past. For example, Black and Latino men ages 15-28, and people with disabilities are featured on the advertisements and billboards due to their lack of representation in the prior census. Also, members of the committee have gone door to door and even to shelters leaving fliers with information on what the census is and how to fill it out. These have been distributed in Spanish and English in order to reach as many people as possible.
After ensuring people know about the census, the second phase is helping people complete it. There are three ways to complete the census: online, by phone, or paper (mail) response. In order to help with online responses, The Complete Count Committees have set up various access centers where people can come in and quickly complete the census. These areas currently closed due to Covid-19 but will reopen when deemed safe. Another option is by phone. By calling 844-330-2020 (English speakers) or 844-468-2020 (Spanish speakers) people are given the option to efficiently answer the questions through the phone. Note there are also 59 other languages the census is offered in, see (2020census.gov for full listing).

The committees have been working tirelessly to ensure that as many people in Mercer county are counted as possible. Currently, the response rate is at 49.2% for the county; however, the closer that number is to 100% the better. Additionally, it is important to note that particular areas fall beneath that number. Trenton for example is currently only at a 30% response rate, well under the current response rate. It is important that all communities within Mercer are counted.

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has made the committees change some of their plans. Tarry Truitt, a consultant for the Trenton Area Nonprofit Complete Count Committee, has called it, “an interesting time.” Recent events have shown just how important representation is. The census is taken into account when roads are built/repaired, where shopping plazas are located, and even where hospitals are built. It is truly crucial that people in Mercer county are accounted for. Since most people are not able to leave their homes currently, the social media that was already being utilized to draw attention to the census is now receiving a second wind. Of course, commercials and videos are being utilized, but there has also been a push to get advertisements in local newspapers as this reaches more of the individuals in the target audience. Plans are being made to reach as many people as possible once the country reopens due to COVID-19.

The census has been extended until August 14th, fill it out- Everyone Counts.

Code Blue and You: Staying Sheltered in the Frigid Months

This story is part of The Streetlight’s participation in a statewide climate reporting collaboration by members of the NJ College News Commons, a network of campus media outlets working together to cover the climate crisis in New Jersey.

By Gabrielle Wells

There are over 9,000 people experiencing some form of homelessness on a given day in the state of New Jersey, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Back in 2013, the “Trenton/Mercer 10-year Plan to End Homelessness” was formed in order to prevent even more people from experiencing homelessness and to improve the situation of those who are currently on the streets. This plan was originally created to make a system that would assess needs and help connect individuals experiencing homelessness to housing, among other resources. Now, a new law involving Code Blue will continue to allow many of these individuals to seek shelter during the winter.

In Mercer County, individuals who suffer from housing insecurity may find themselves on the street during severe weather conditions, which can be very hazardous to one’s health. Hypothermia occurs when one’s core body temperature falls below approximately 95°F. This drop-in core body temperature can be a direct result of staying out in temperatures around 30°F to 50°F for extended periods of time, especially in wet conditions.

For Trenton’s population experiencing homelessness, this means that suffering from life-threatening conditions such as hypothermia can pose a serious threat. Dr. Rita King, a professor of microbiology at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, explained that when a person is in the cold for a sustained period of time, blood vessels become smaller in order to keep the core of the body and vital organs warmer. This can result in fingers and toes becoming susceptible to frostbite, which can cause gangrene, potentially leading to an amputation of extremities.

“If you’re in sustained cold with constricted blood vessels, your blood pressure can raise which can cause heart attacks,” said King.

New Jersey State Senators Troy Singleton and M. Teresa Ruiz recently created legislation that was signed into law in March 2019, requiring all New Jersey counties to set up homelessness trust funds. These funds would be used to support Code Blue emergency shelter services in order to provide resources and suitable shelter from severe weather conditions.

Code Blue initially was established in May 2017 after legislation was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie in efforts to develop a program that would offer emergency shelter to the population experiencing homelessness in times of inclement weather. According to Mercer County’s Office of Homeless Services’ website, in cases of extreme weather where the temperature drops below 25°F without precipitation, or in the case where it is below 32°F with precipitation with a wind chill of zero degrees for a prolonged period of two hours or more, Code Blue alerts are issued.

However, King feels that Code Blue alerts should be issued during times of other temperatures as well. “I don’t know where they came up with 25°F,” said King, calling such an extreme temperature “flat out freezing.”

This new partisan legislation created by Senators Troy Singleton and M. Teresa Ruiz was passed by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. A spokesperson from Senator Ruiz office could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

Despite the new legislation, some patrons from the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen such as Reggie Montigue and Crystal Hickmond told The Streetlight that they do not have much trouble finding shelter in the winter. “I have already found my spot,” said Montigue.

Once Code Blue alerts are issued, individuals who suffer from housing insecurity in Mercer County can turn to their designated Code Blue shelter, the Rescue Mission of Trenton, which will be open 24 hours once the Code Blue alert is issued. Additionally, people in need of assistance throughout the state of New Jersey can call 211 for shelter information.