CLARK, NJ - As Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG) signs started appearing on lawns in nearby towns, a thought occurred to Clark residents Kim Baglieri, Nicole Brighouse, and Kristin Panayoutou.  If they wanted to see something similar happening in their own town, they were going to have to be the ones to make it happen.

The trouble was, they learned rather quickly, it was going to require a bit more work than planting a seed in the ground, hoping for a flower to bloom. The three women quickly got to work. They researched the recent origins of the FLAG movement, which started in Chatham in March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal of the group is to highlight the hard work and dedication of frontline and essential workers risking their own lives daily, keeping hospitals and nursing homes open. The people, providing indispensable community support such as police, fire, and EMT services and ensuring other businesses and institutions, like banks, pharmacies, and grocery stores, remained open.

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FLAG groups accomplish this by offering a little appreciation and spreading some much needed love in the form of food, notes of thanks, and other donations. “I’m a teacher in Rahway, and I first started thinking about it when I saw that Rahway had just created a FLAG group,” Brighouse said. “Our union was getting involved with it in town, so I thought why not do the same thing in Clark?”

Baglieri, Brighouse, and Panayoutou brainstormed their next steps, created a logo, ordered signs, established communication with community members, found local vendors from whom they could purchase food, and identified the local heroes they wished to thank.

 In a matter of a few weeks, lawn sign orders exceeded 800, they had raised over $16K, distributed over $8K to local businesses, and donated almost 500 meals. One of Clark FLAG’s first charitable acts was on Monday, April 27, when food was purchased from Bistro 1051 on Raritan Road was delivered to the Clark Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Westfield Avenue. 

Wayne Blum, Director of the facility reached out to TAPinto Clark and asked if both the Clark FLAG group and Bistro 1051 could be recognized.  He said, he and the staff were grateful for their work and donations. 

Clark FLAG continues their mission.  Upcoming deliveries include snack bags and gift cards to visiting volunteer nurses, 110 meals Wednesday to RWJ University Hospital in Rahway, 75 meals to healthcare workers at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth on Friday, and meals to Hackensack Meridian JFK Medical Center in Edison in the week to come.

While time-consuming and a great deal of hard work, the efforts of Clark FLAG have reaped benefits beyond what its founders could have guessed.

“Since we started this group just two weeks ago, we continue to be astounded by the generosity of our community. Because of those contributing, we are able to take in donations, give business to our local restaurants, and feed those working in our community throughout this crisis,” said Panayoutou. ”It just shows how impactful the circle of kindness is here in Clark.”

Baglieri agreed, saying, “I am not at all surprised at how successful FLAG has been these past two weeks because our community is one big family, and we always pull together in times of need. We are so grateful for all the love and support.”

FLAG group organizers are hopeful that next time residents drive around town and notice one of those now very recognizable blue signs,  they might offer a quick mental note of gratitude.  Thanks for all the workers currently keeping us safe and those striving to continue moving society forward as we survive these challenging times.

It may be that , through a bit of dedication, perseverance, and appreciation, a seed has been planted in the ground after all.

To find out more about FLAG of Clark or to make a donation, please visit their Facebook page or email FlagofClark@gmail.com

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