By contributor Marc Monseau
The Eastern Service Workers Association in Trenton is seeking to expand the distribution of food and personal hygiene products to vulnerable working families coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supplied with donations from local farmers, supermarkets and individuals, ESWA volunteers currently provide more than 80 families each week with food deliveries. In light of the current crisis, the workers association is seeking additional volunteers and donations to expand weekly deliveries to support more than 100 families.
“Though people are rising to the occasion, there are many more in need that we haven’t been able to reach yet,” said Michael Clark, operations manager for Mercer County for the ESWA. “We urgently need more volunteers to help us with these services, as well as more food, diapers and hygiene products.”
For 44 years, the ESWA, a free membership-based association for low-income service and temporary workers, has operated in Mercer County and provides members with emergency food aid and clothing as well as pro bono counsel to help manage debt, obtain unemployment assistance, and gain access to medical care.
With New Jersey’s unemployment surging to 15 percent, low paid and under-employed families in Trenton have been particularly hard hit, with many experiencing significant income shortfalls as employers close operations or reduce hours, Clark explained.
“Prior to the pandemic, most of our membership struggled to afford some of the basics of life in terms of food, rent and medical care,” said Clark. “The current situation has incredibly intensified those struggles.”
To address those needs, the ESWA contacts more than 200 of its members each week to determine which members need care packages or other assistance. Food and personal hygiene products are then distributed to those families seeking support in accordance with social distancing requirements through at-home delivery by ESWA volunteers.
The ESWA’s weekly calls to its members also help the organization identify other needed services. For instance, the ESWA recently began providing medical education seminars online through Zoom on numerous topics, including high blood pressure and general nutrition.
For support, the ESWA turns to a network of volunteers, which includes more than two dozen local pastors, members of the American Federation of Teachers union at The College of New Jersey, and other members of the community. Each Saturday, volunteers gather at the
Trenton Meeting of Friends meetinghouse to assemble and distribute care packages.
Though AFT volunteers have helped the ESWA for several years with food distribution and an annual holiday toy drive, the current crisis represents an unprecedented level of need for the community, explained Matthew Wund, PhD, Professor of Biology at The College of New Jersey and community outreach organizer for the AFT.
“This pandemic is stretching the fabric of our society which already had a lot of structural inequality,” Wund said. “A lot of people work as hard as I do, and yet don’t have enough to cover raising their kids or paying their rent.”
In addition to volunteers, numerous local farms and supermarkets, including Terhune Orchards, Pennington Market, Honey Brook Organic Farms, Rolling Harvest and Food Rescue, have rallied to support the ESWA by providing food and locally grown produce.
Still, more help is needed. In addition to donations and volunteers to deliver food, Clark said the ESWA is looking for help reaching out to members and raising awareness of the worker’s association by creating signs to hang in bodegas, grocery stores and on street corners.
For volunteers, working with the ESWA provides an opportunity to support families in the community who are struggling amid the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.
“People need help, and while I’m not a first responder, I can help in this way,” said TCNJ’s Wund who regularly volunteers for the ESWA,. “After all, what is a small cost to me, could be a huge benefit to someone else.”
The ESWA suggests that those seeking to volunteer call its office at (609) 695-9562.