- Royal Thomas II
Mercer County Nonprofit Lends a Hand Amid Crises
Via New Jersey Monthly Magazine |
When the pandemic increased the need for food and housing assistance, Arm in Arm evolved to meet the demand.
In these uncertain times, the next crisis could be just around the corner. Arm in Arm of Mercer County aims to be there for families and individuals when crisis strikes.
Back in April 2019, Dayron Proctor gained full custody of his four younger siblings. While working full time and going to school, Proctor knew it was going to be a struggle. He reached out to the Mercer County Board of Social Services to find any resources that could help him. Arm in Arm answered the call.
“Arm in Arm was there to help from the first moment,” says Proctor, 27. By the end of that May, Proctor was living in a new apartment and making a home for himself and his siblings.
Founded as the Crisis Ministry in 1980, Arm in Arm helps people in the Mercer County region manage three basic needs: a place to stay, food to eat and a steady job. Leaders of Nassau Presbyterian Church and Trinity Church in Princeton started the nonprofit; in 2016, the name changed to Arm in Arm.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic put added pressure on Arm in Arm’s services. “We increased the amount of people that we served,” says executive director David Fox, “but we did it in a way that was different and much more difficult.”
Prior to the pandemic, Arm in Arm’s three food pantries in Trenton and Princeton served nearly 2,000 households a month. By May 2020, the organization increased that number to 2,635 families—all served through a new mobile delivery system. To keep up with demand, Arm in Arm has since moved to a hybrid model, operating its food pantries two days a week and serving families on other days with grab-and-go deliveries.
Arm in Arm also works to mitigate housing insecurity. In Proctor’s case, that meant paying the security deposit on his new apartment and supplementing his income for several months.
The current eviction moratorium also required some rethinking. Rather than providing rental assistance for much of 2020, Arm in Arm focused on back rent and ensuring that residents are not faced with eviction when the moratorium ends. Prior to the pandemic, Arm in Arm provided an average of $484 in monthly rental assistance per family. Now it’s closer to $1,500 per family.
“Our goal is always sustainability,” Fox says. “We always want to help people become independent and be able to pay their bills.”
Arm in Arm’s food pantries also provide jobs that can lead to long-term economic stability. Workers are trained in customer service and other skills that can be applied in a retail or food-distribution environment.
For Fox, the recent changes are a testament to the dedication of Arm In Arm’s staff and volunteers. “We’re just trying to help each other get by and thrive,” Fox says. “When we do that for each other, the whole community is lifted…and that makes us all better.”