Mercer Street Friends Announces Leadership Award Honorees

Mercer Street Friends, dedicated to nourishing minds and bodies and empowering families and communities in Trenton and Mercer County, will recognize community leaders on June 17, 2021, during the Mercer Street Friends Leadership Awards Celebration. The awards will be presented at the organization’s Food Bank in Ewing, NJ, and will honor individuals and organizations who have stood tall during this pandemic and continue to lend their support and leadership to our communities. The public is invited to watch the awards via livestream by visiting on the evening of the event.

“I am thrilled to announce that NJM Insurance Group President and CEO, Mitch Livingston, will accept the Corporate Leadership and Public Service Award. He will be joined by our Educational Leadership Award recipients, Bernadette Trapp, Principal of Luis-Munoz-Rivera Community Middle School and Jeannette Harris, Principal of Benjamin C. Gregory Elementary School,“ said Bernie Flynn, Mercer Street Friends Chief Executive Officer. “The Generational Leadership Award recipient will be Kylan Tatum, a local student. Princeton Area Community Foundation (PACF) will receive the Philanthropic Leadership Award and The Robert M. Appelbaum Service Awards will be presented to John Spears and, posthumously to Jack Espenshade.” Learn about the Mercer Street Friends 2021 Leadership Awards Honorees below.

2021 Corporate Leadership and Public Service Award: Mitch Livingston

The onset of the pandemic created a substantial increase in food insecurity in Mercer County and necessitated that MSF ramp up its Food Bank operations. NJM responded immediately by providing a sustainability grant and also donating warehouse space right next-door enabling Mercer Street Friends to acquire and store more food when it was critically needed in the community. NJM has since permitted the Food Bank to assume its warehouse lease enabling Mercer Street Friends to expand its physical plant from 15,000SF to 25,000SF. Bernie Flynn shared, “Mitch Livingston gave immediate, personal attention to the needs of Mercer Street Friends and many other nonprofit organizations this past year at the same time he was leading transformational change at NJM in response to the pandemic. Mitch is a deserving recipient of the Corporate Leadership and Public Service Award.”

“For more than 60 years, Mercer Street Friends has honored its mission—lifting our community through nutrition, education, family and career services,” said Livingston. “The organization’s efforts to keep food flowing to families and individuals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have been extraordinary. NJM is proud to support Mercer Street Friends and we are deeply honored to receive the Corporate Leadership and Public Service Award. “

2021 Educational Leadership Award: Bernadette Trapp and Jeanette Harris

Bernadette Trapp, Principal of Luis-Munoz River Community Middle School, is a veteran educator in the City of Trenton. Having spent nearly 40 years in the school district, Ms. Trapp has continued to shine a light on the power of education, consistently committing herself to her students, their families and the faculty. Since 2014, Ms. Trapp has partnered with Mercer Street Friends in planning and instituting the Trenton Community Schools Initiative, ensuring that students receive comprehensive academic and mental health support to guide them towards future success. Ms. Trapp offered, “It has been a true pleasure working side by side with Mercer Street Friends Community Schools leadership and staff since we began our efforts in 2015. The Rivera Community Middle School program continues to evolve to meet the needs of our students and parents, but at the core, we remain firm in ensuring that we offer our school community the academic, social, and emotional support they need to succeed in the classroom, and in their homes, neighborhoods, and well into the future. I’m honored to receive the 2021 Mercer Street Friends Educational Leadership Award.”

Jeannette Harris, Principal of Benjamin C. Gregory Elementary School, is a bold leader, supporting students and families in accessing educational opportunities in Trenton. She continues to work hand in hand with Mercer Street Friends in implementing programs through the Trenton Community Schools Initiative, specifically developing the Reading Intervention Program designed to bring students up to grade level proficiency and planning for the upcoming Gregory School Summer Academic and Enrichment Program. Ms. Harris stated, “The partnership between Gregory Elementary School and Mercer Street Friends as Community Schools collaborators is one that our students and families benefit from each day. This year, with the launch of the Reading Intervention Program, we are responding to the needs of our students presented throughout the pandemic. After so many months of virtual learning, students need academic support. That remains true for the coming months as we prepare for a robust summer enrichment program for our students. With Mercer Street Friends, we are creating a space for students to grow, flourish, and thrive while overcoming obstacles that challenge their learning.”

2021 Generational Leadership Award: Kyle Tatum

Kylan Tatum, a Senior at Lawrenceville School, will receive the 2021 Generational Leadership Award. Dedicating his high school years to service, Kylan approached Mercer Street Friends in June 2020, offering to host a fundraiser for the Food Bank. He and his classmates, members of the Pantect Club, went above and beyond by raising several thousands of dollars and providing and distributing over 4,000 face masks to families in need in Trenton. Tatum noted, “I was overjoyed to learn that I received this award. In my opinion, one of the most important parts of service, if not the most important part, is impact. Knowing that our work in the last year has truly impacted communities close to home is one of the most rewarding things I could ask for.”

2021 Philanthropic Leadership Award: Princeton Area Community Foundation

Princeton Area Community Foundation, a model of the power of philanthropy, will receive the 2021 Philanthropic Leadership Award. When the pandemic began in March 2020, PACF immediately established the COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund to assist nonprofit organizations in navigating the new demands and expectations presented by the pandemic. Mercer Street is a grateful recipient of grants from the COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund. A longtime partner of Mercer Street Friends, PACF has been a guiding light by philanthropically investing in Mercer Street Friends programs, notably the Trenton Community Schools Initiative, All Kids Thrive chronic absenteeism effort at Luis Munoz Rivera Community Middle School and the Reading Intervention Program at Gregory Elementary School.

“We are honored to receive the Philanthropic Leadership Award,” said Jeffrey M. Vega, President & CEO of the Princeton Area Community Foundation. “Mercer Street Friends has been one of our grantee partners for many years and provides life-supporting services to our neighbors in the region. When the pandemic began, they quickly mobilized their food bank program, and over the last year, they have fed thousands of children and families. That’s just one example of the many ways Mercer Street Friends helps our community every day.”

2021 Robert M. Appelbaum Service Award: John Spears and Jack Espenshade (posthumously)

John Spears will receive the 2021 Robert M. Appelbaum Service Award. A quiet leader in the Quaker and business communities, Mr. Spears, a Managing Director of the financial investment firm, Tweedy, Brown Company LLC, he has offered his expertise and benevolence to Mercer Street Friends having served numerous terms on the Board over multiple decades. “Many years ago, I learned about Mercer Street Friends as a member of the Religious Society of Friends. I have been committed to assisting people in need in Trenton for decades and am blessed to be able to help out and chip in a little here and there along the way. I give thanks to the clients, partners and employees of my business —and to our free enterprise system—for providing the surplus that I am free to give away, spend, invest, bequeath. And I thank God.”

Jack Espenshade was a volunteer extraordinaire. For years, Jack offered his time and talent to Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, packing pallets and ensuring that each partner agency throughout the County received all they needed to feed the community. A mechanical engineer by trade, he worked hard and always made time for service to others. His daughter, Linda Espenshade Heinemann shared, “My father was a really good man who did good work and instilled his belief in volunteering in me and my three siblings. He inspired others throughout his life.” Jack never waivered in his commitment to Mercer Street Friends. and we are honored to memorialize him with the 2021 Robert M. Appelbaum Service Award.

This signature event, recognizing community leaders, will also raise philanthropic support directed to Mercer Street Friends’ programs focused on food, family and education.

This event has been designed to provide a safe celebration in light of the pandemic. Mercer Street Friends will host a limited number of attendees, outdoors, at the Food Bank. A larger number of guests will view the event remotely, without an attendance fee, thanks to sponsors and benefactors of the event.

Information about sponsorships and how to livestream the event can be found at

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