It’s all about giving: Crisis Ministry of Mercer County marks 35 years of helping others

By Philip Sean Curran
   Thirty-five years ago, two churches in Princeton gave birth to what today is a nonprofit organization that serves thousands of people who are in a bad place in their lives.
   The Crisis Ministry of Mercer County feeds the hungry, prevents homelessness and helps people find work — a mission that an expected crowd of 130 supporters came to assist Friday at the organization’s fall benefit at historic Morven Museum & Garden.
   Guests mingled over hors d’oeuvres and drinks inside the home that once served as the official residence of New Jersey governors, on a night when organizers hoped to raise $40,000 to support Crisis Ministry’s work in those three core areas.
   The evening celebrated the organization’s 35 years of service, of what began as a combined effort of Nassau Presbyterian Church and Trinity Church in Princeton to address the needs of the community. The current head of Crisis Ministry, once a volunteer in the organization, reflected on that history.
   ”We had incredibly dedicated leadership for the first few decades of our existence, which created the strength of the organization as it is today,” said Executive Director Carolyn Biondi. “We had people involved early on that stayed with the beginning of the organization until it got to be a stable, functioning nonprofit.”
   Past leaders of Crisis Ministry also were on hand.
   ”It’s a great organization with a great legacy,” said David Pettit, a past board of director. “The fact that it’s gotten stronger through the years and had more of an impact helping our neighbors in need — it’s been an honor to be associated (with it).”
   Mr. Pettit has been affiliated with Crisis Ministry for 20 years. He recalled how, as a Sunday school teacher at Nassau Church, 4-year-old children would bring in canned food as their offering to the organization. He said he has seen the nonprofit grow and evolve.
   ”It evolved from being sort of a family-kind of organization to more of a professional services organization,” he said. “At the heart was always the caring for the community and the people around it.”
   Today, Crisis Ministry serves between 4,000 and 4,500 families annually in Mercer County. The organization provides emergency financial assistance to help people pay their rent, mortgage, utilities or security deposit. The organization also helps 60 adults each year, through workforce development, toward finding a job.
   Crisis Ministry operates out of three locations: two in Trenton, on East Hanover Street and South Clinton Avenue, and in the basement of Nassau Church on Nassau Street.
   The Rev. David Davis, the leader of Nassau Church, used his remarks at the gala to put a moral imperative to the work the Crisis Ministry does. He said that from the church basement, the organization serves between 260 to 290 families, most of whom live in Princeton, per month.
   ”It is at the very core of our faith, at the very core of who we are as human beings and in people of all faiths and as children of God of preventing hunger and preventing homelessness and giving to our neighbor…,” he said.
   He added that the Crisis Ministry “helps to remind us that preventing homelessness and preventing hunger ought to be at the very core of who we are as human beings.”
   The head of the nonprofit’s board sought to look back at the past 35 years and ahead to the future.
   ”We are proud of what we’ve done for that time period, and look forward to many years to come,” said Gary Patteson, chairman of the board of directors. “What we do fulfills a basic human instinct to help others.”
   In explaining why the organization has sustained itself, Mr. Patteson credited “the dedicated staff” of the Crisis Ministry and recognized the financial support that the nonprofit receives.
   ”I think it’s the welcoming hospitality we offer to anyone who comes to us for assistance,” he said. “And obviously, it’s the generosity of donors-individuals, corporations, foundations.”
   The event program included testimonials from supporters of the organization and the people it has helped. One woman, identified as Sandra, said “everyone at the Crisis Ministry treated me with compassion and respect, and for that I will always be grateful.”