CAMDEN, NJ — Next week will mark a month since Gov. Phil Murphy issued a COVID-19 “Stay at Home” order that plunged nine million New Jersey residents into a new reality. 

For Jordan Lee Mead — a Missouri transplant who moved to Camden in 2008 — it has meant putting his café aspirations on hold. 

“A trike for a mobile café to be exact,” Mead, 32, told TAPinto Camden on Monday. “We planned to roll out in the spring and have had to obviously hold off. Don’t get me wrong though, that wouldn’t be a primary form of income, more of a side [project] to help build up the brand name.”

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Operations for Alter Course Coffee Company haven’t been completely put on hold though — as Mead continues roasting coffee at home for friends and his wife, Hope.

Ultimately, he hopes to open a brick-and-mortar in downtown Camden.

“I’ve been ordering bags of green beans in bulk and roasting at home since last year...,” Mead paused to check on a batch, comparing the early brew smell to burned popcorn. 

“I’ve been out in the yard too doing some composting work. Oh, and I built a fire pit,” he said, laughing. “All of it keeps my mind off things, keeps me busy.”

Therein lies part of the key to coping with the loss of purpose that has easily set in for many residents at home during the pandemic, says Andrew Abeyta, an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers-Camden.

“My recommendation would be to focus on the things that give your life meaning and find ways to give yourself direction and purpose within the confines of shelter in place/quarantine,” Abeyta said during an interview. “Purpose and meaning is very vital to psychological health.”

Abeyta’s research has in part delved into the need for social belonging and the psychological factors therein.

Among the negative impact of the pandemic, he explained, is the impact on the job market.

“My colleagues and I conducted a series of research studies a few years back looking at some psychological effects of financial stress and uncertainty. We found that people who felt financially insecure or who worried about making ends meet reported a reduced sense of purpose and meaning in life, compared to people who felt financially secure,” Abeyta said.

Mead, who works at a café in Philadelphia, said he has kept in contact with his employer but generally considers himself laid off for the time being.

“I know when he’ll need us we’ll be there but we’re not like other places. We’re right next to a Starbucks and just can’t offer the same convenience as them so the the cafe closed down,” Mead said. “Money isn’t quite an issue yet but the more time passes the tighter it’s getting for rent and in a month we’ll see. We’re fortunate it’s not already a concern. We know others have had it harder.”

Mead also lives with friends who continue to work and, since his wife Hope Mead has lupus, he often worries about the risk of positive results at home.

"We've had to be extra careful," Mead said. “Hope is also a potter [and runs “Works of Hope”] and she would normally begin preparing for craft fairs for later this month."

Still, Hope has been able to continue creating in a nearby art space located at Camden FireWorks, which Mead considers “a blessing.”

Abeyta agreed that crafting art is a good remedy for being stuck at home and feeling a sense of malaise. But also: exercising, keeping a journal, and making time out to schedule phone calls or video chats with family and friends. 

For those feeling hopeless, Abeyta recommends turning to “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

“In the book, Fankl talks about his experience surviving a Nazi concentration camp. For Frankl, it was thinking about the things that made his life meaningful, that made life worth living, and gave him a sense of purpose that helped him to never lose hope and survive,” Abeyta. “I find myself thinking of Frankl’s story often these days. I think to myself, if he can find meaning/purpose and never lose hope in the midst of a Nazi concentration camp, I can make it through the current situation.”

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