You can make a difference!
See how one local mom’s efforts are making a huge impact by gathering her community to support health care workers on the front line while also helping local businesses during the coronavirus pandemic and find out how you can do the same in your own community.
FLAG (Front Line Appreciation Group) is a group that's dedicated to helping feed our front line health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic while also keeping our local restaurants in business. We spoke with Liz Bernich of Chatham, NJ -- who teamed up with another mom, Gina McGuire of Madison, to create the group that raised over $25,000 for the cause in its first few days of existence.
How did she start this amazing program and how can you help or follow her lead in your community? Read on and be inspired.
How did the idea for FLAG originate?
I saw a post about the community I grew up in (Huntington, NY) supporting their local hospital, and thought it sounded like a great idea so I reached out to the Chatham Community Forum -- our local Facebook group -- to see if anyone would like to band together to support the front line AND our local restaurants. I immediately had an incredible amount of interest, not only from our own town but from neighboring Madison. We started collecting through my Venmo account and then added PayPal, Zelle, and we were off! Next, I started reaching out to local friends who could get me into the hospital and to make connections to get information on who really needed the support.
What did you find out?
A few calls into the various departments gave me a better idea of which departments and shifts might appreciate support. I found that the night shifts were especially under stress because of new protocols -- the cafeteria is closed 8pm-1am and afterward has limited offerings, plus they can't leave their unit once their shift starts, in order to prevent them from bringing germs back into the ward. And of course, the ER is extra busy these days, too. Everyone just seems really inundated with new training, new procedures, extra high patient volume -- a little extra fuel and love from the community go a really long way to help them feel appreciated and keep them healthy.
When did you decide to bring in the local restaurants?
Immediately! This only works if the local restaurants are willing to help and we want to help support them by paying them to prepare food for the front line! We've been coordinating with them to keep them as busy as possible and keep money flowing to them, making it a win-win for everyone. We've also gotten word that many of the local Girl Scout troops weren't able to hold their cookie booth sales so we've bought some to drop off at local police stations, firehouses, etc. They've been most grateful.
How have the first few days have gone?
It's been nothing short of AMAZING! Over $25,000 has been raised and meals are set for delivery for the next few weeks. Our plan is to keep this going as long as it's necessary.
How would you suggest others set this up in their own communities?
1. Start with reaching out to the hospital -- focus on the ICU departments and the ER. Ask them who else needs help.
2. Build momentum via your support group. We've been able to get most of our momentum from Facebook. We have a Community Forum group that was super helpful, but individuals are also spreading the word to friends they know who aren't on FB. Any community outreach method is great. Word of mouth is powerful! Right now everyone seems to want to help however they can.
3. Donations can be collected through Venmo, Zelle, PayPal, Venmo, etc. and sent to the person organizing it (make sure the account is empty when you start to avoid mixing funds). Payments to restaurants should be made however the restaurant wants -- we're trying to avoid having them incur credit card charges, if possible.
4. Start connecting with local restaurants. Some tips:
- We recommend servings on the small side, individually wrapped, and not messy.
- Plastic and paper (no metal) are best so food can be reheated in a microwave.
- Offer vegetarian options and have food labeled so people know what they're grabbing.
- Stay away from sauces, and dressings or place in a small dressing container.
- Ask restaurant to include forks, napkins, knives if needed.
- Our budget is approximately $6/serving for meals (sandwich halves, small containers of hot food - meatballs, ziti, chicken and rice - generally half-sized portions).
- Each order is based on 80-90 total depending on who we're feeding and we're asking the restaurants to divide up to easily deliver to each department.
5. Have the restaurants handle delivery.
6. We've created a weekly list for the hospital departments so they know what's coming and when, which also helps the security folks know this is a legit effort.
7. Create a rotating schedule for your restaurants so you can get to everyone! Let them include menus with their deliveries to help with advertising!
8. Drinks and snacks are being handled separately -- we're staying focused on the meals. (Our local Chatham TWIG group is providing meals and snacks to some departments as a way to help, plus collecting other items for the hospital and patients.)