Princeton Fundraiser Takes Attendees Inside the World of Downton Abbey

Housing Initiatives of Princeton is a non-profit that offers those in need a hand up, not a handout.


A Union Jack flag greeted visitors to the home on Edgehill Street on Sunday night.

Inside, William and Joanna Storrar hosted nearly three-dozen people for an evening of English High Tea, auction items and a screening of the much-anticipated premiere of Season 3 of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre’s megahit television show, “Downton Abbey.”

Visitors, many in the style of English dress circa 1920, stepped into the world of the hit television show.

The evening was a fundraiser to benefit Housing Initiatives of Princeton, a non-profit that transitions low-income working families and individuals who are homeless or facing homelessness to permanent housing and self-sufficiency.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to bring our supporters together for fun, fellowship and funding,” HIP Chairwoman Ruth Thrumond Scott said.

As the evening’s visitors sipped champagne and sherry and dined on a menu including cucumber sandwiches, Trifle, and scones with cream and jam, they perused items auction items signed by Downton Abbey cast member Dan Stevens and other show memorabilia.

Fundraisers are critical for Housing Initiatives of Princeton, whose members volunteer to address what they see as an unmet need for transitional, affordable housing in the area.

“These are the folks who keep our town running,” Thrumond Scott said. “Our typical client is a divorced mother with children. They work in retail, restaurants, and healthcare. What sends them to us is some kind of setback- change in marital status, injury, loss of employment. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you’re in jeopardy.”

Using two units in Princeton- one purchased and one leased, the organization provides housing for qualified applicants for up to 24 months, a critical safety net since waiting lists for affordable units in Princeton and neighboring towns can be several years long.

In Mercer County fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,152. In Princeton, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment jumps to $1,761. For someone earning minimum wage ($7.25/hour) in New Jersey, the worker would have to work 122 hours per week, 52 weeks a year to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Mercer County.

A Princeton household must earn nearly $71,000 annually to afford a market rate apartment in town.

“We think this is an unmet need in Princeton,” Thrumond Scott said. “Princeton is better than some, but there are some 900 people on the waiting list and some people are facing imminent homelessness and need help right away.”

To qualify for HIP, clients must be employed or employable. Rent is paid based on ability to pay and build a record of regular rent payments that will assist them to transition to permanent housing.

HIP was founded after a homeless woman repeatedly sought refuge at Princeton’s Trinity Episcopal Church in the late 1990’s. Soon after, Trinity Associate Rector Kit Sherrill launched the task force that ultimately the need for transitional housing.

In 2001, under the leadership of Rev. Christine Knight and the late Rev. Margaret Prescott, co-outreach ministers at Trinity, Housing Initiatives of Princeton was founded.

Today, HIP is run by Trinity Episcopal Church, Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton United Methodist Church, Princeton Friends Meeting, The Jewish Center of Princeton and Nassau Christian Center of Princeton.  

Tim and Annamay Fiege, who lived in Princeton for 16 years before moving to New York, attended Sunday’s fundraiser.

“I live and die for Downton Abbey,” Annamay Fiege said, adding that she and her husband have attended other HIP fundraisers including an intimate dinner with Princeton University Professor and Economist Paul Krugman.

All the money goes to a good cause, Fiege said.

“It changes people’s lives,” she said. “It really does.

To become involved with HIP or to volunteer your expertise to HIP recipients, email info@housinginitiativesofprinceton.org.

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