April 1, 2020

Princeton’s Response Mounts as Coronavirus Cases Continue to Grow

By Donald Gilpin

As New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday another major surge in coronavirus cases and deaths in the state, a coalition of Princeton organizations continued to collaborate to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. There were 69 new deaths in New Jersey announced yesterday, March 31, for a total of 267, and more than 2,000 new positive tests for a total of 18,696 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases throughout the state.

The Princeton Health Department on Tuesday reported 28 total COVID-19 cases, and there were 268 total cases reported by Mercer County. In collaboration with health partners, Mercer County has opened a drive-up testing site for COVID-19 at Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrence. The testing center is by appointment only for symptomatic Mercer County residents age 18 and older who have a prescription from their primary health care provider.

In Princeton, the Princeton Children’s Fund (PCF) — in collaboration with Princeton Community Housing, the Princeton Human Services Department, the Princeton Senior Resource Center, and Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPPrinceton) — has established a Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to help Princeton families in need of financial support because of income loss during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are asking the community to consider donating money to be used to pay day-to-day expenses that will be incurred by families who are unable to work during the shutdowns and curfews,” stated a PCF press release. Donations can be made online at www.princetonchildrensfund.org and are fully tax deductible.

To qualify for aid, applicants must be Princeton residents or have a child in Princeton Public Schools; must have suffered financial burdens as a result of COVID-19; must present supporting documentation; must have an income under the New jersey Council on Affordable Housing limit; and must have exhausted other options for financial assistance.

PCF President Felicia Spitz reported that PCF had received 25 applications as of Monday and was expecting many more in the next week as April rent checks come due. She noted that the PCF social workers, five out of seven of who are dual language speakers, reach out to each applicant to help with the application process, making sure that the application is accurate and reflects the applicant’s full need.

Spitz urged those in need “who have had trouble accessing social services in the past” to apply to the PCF. “We are here to help,” she said.

To Princeton residents who are able to donate to the PCF, she stated, “If you’re looking to keep the Princeton community strong and residents in their homes and not under mountains of debt, please donate.”

She also urged employers to continue to pay their workers, even if they can’t continue to work. “The housekeeper, the nanny, the dog walker — keep paying them,” she said.

Spitz emphasized the importance of PCF’s relationships with other local organizations in the team effort of combating the effects of COVID-19.

SHUPPrinceton, for example, has agreed to provide weekend meals for all 500 Princeton children on the Free and Reduced Lunch Program through the end of the school year if needed. SHUPP typically provides weekend meals for approximately 150 children in the public elementary schools, the Princeton Nursery School, and Princeton Charter School, with snacks and lunches sent to Princeton High School, John Witherspoon Middle School, and the Princeton Recreation Department camps during the summer.

Ross Wishnick, chair of SHUPPrinceton and chair of the Princeton Human Services Commission, explained that the PCF and a large coalition of local organizations are working “to be the net that catches people who fall through other safety nets.” He said they are especially looking to assist the most vulnerable local residents, “so many people who, if they have a $500 unexpected expense, do not know how they can pay for it. There’s going to be a gap. We’re there.”

He added, “The Human Services Commission is all of a sudden one of the most important aspects of community life, as people find themselves in a place they thought they’d never be.” He emphasized the importance of bringing people together in a collaborative way.