In her final days, Janice Preschel continued to run the Helping Hands Food Pantry from her hospital bed in New Jersey.
On Monday, Preschel died of complications from Covid-19 at a Teaneck hospital, Gov. Phil Murphy said. She was 60.
Murphy said on Thursday that 25,590 people across the state have tested positive for disease, and 537 have died.
“Even while she was in the hospital suffering and waiting for her test results and having difficulty breathing, she was still on the phone with me and emailing and sending me instructions on the pantry,” said Teaneck Deputy Mayor Elie Katz, who wrote a speech that was read at Preschel’s funeral service on Wednesday.
Katz said he tapped Preschel to start the food pantry to help families struggling after the 2008 financial crisis.
“She jumped at the opportunity and, when I told her the salary was zero, she continued to jump at the opportunity,” said Katz. “It was in her DNA to serve and to give back to the community.”
Katz said Preschel’s family has asked those who knew her to spread the word of her plight with the respiratory disease to stress the importance of social distancing. She is survived by two brothers and a sister.
Preschel was a former president of the Teaneck Rotary, according to Katz. She was a member of Temple Emeth and a volunteer on the township’s social services advisory board.
“For five years, Janice worked out of my office,” Katz said in his speech. “Her desk was three feet away from my desk. She ran the pantry like a well-oiled machine, making sure the volunteers were properly trained and that the donated food was picked up and ready for distribution and, above all, ensuring that each recipient was treated with care, respect, and dignity.”
From her hospital bed, Preschel fired off almost daily emails to Katz about the workings of the pantry, he said.
“She will be remembered as someone who gave herself to giving back to the community,” said Katz, who is close to Preschel’s family. “She literally would eat, breathe or sleep helping the 100-something families who use the pantry every single week.”
Preschel kept active in the community even after a viral infection left her legally blind about five years ago, Katz said.
“She didn’t slow down or stop from running the food pantry,” he said.
In one of her last emails to Katz, he said Preschel asked him to stop by the pantry to personally thank the volunteers before it temporarily shut down because of the pandemic.