Kathleen Foley, a nurse and co-founder of the Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG) of Somerset, recalled last year’s National Nurses Day when she was picked from her department to help celebrate. For two hours, she walked around her five-floor wing delivering ice cream bars to all of her fellow healthcare providers.

This year looked much different.

“The hospital is just so overwhelmed,” Foley said. “This year, we got a nice email from our CEO explaining that we’ll celebrate in the future because the managers who normally do stuff like that can’t possibly do it themselves.”

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For this reason, FLAG of Somerset decided they needed to take their typical deliveries to the next level for this year’s National Nurses Day.

At the request of the hospital staff, the group coordinated the purchase and delivery of 500 meals from seven local restaurants to St. Peter’s and 600 cupcakes to Robert Wood Johnson to honor the frontline healthcare workers.

The lunches and dinners served showcased the multicultural variety of locally owned food options available in and around Somerset, included meals from Tacoria Mexican Street Kitchen, Hamilton Luncheonette, Fritz’s, Bella Pizza 2, Pasta Volo, Mr. Subs, and Confectionately Yours. Cupcakes — a sweet addition to the typical FLAG delivery — were ordered from La Bon Bakery.

FLAG of Somerset felt that this large, cross-community delivery would bring extra positivity, awareness and thanks to the nurses ensuring the extraordinary circumstances of this year’s Nurses Day.

“I think people are now recognizing how important nurses are, when in the past that probably just wasn't as prevalent as a thought,” said Sue Kachurick, a co-founder of FLAG of Somerset. “Now there's so much about the front line and the appreciation is there more so than ever … from the community that doesn't necessarily see it every day.”

While today’s delivery was special, this group of four women has been coordinating celebrations of the front line every day of the week for over a month.

Early April, FLAG of Somerset was founded to collect donations to provide meals for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 crisis while supporting local restaurants that have been negatively impacted by current social distancing restrictions. Since the group launched, they have collected over $33,350 in donations and served 3,109 meals to New Brunswick hospitals’ front line. They have supported the front line on holidays like Easter, and the group also plans to make deliveries on Mother’s Day.

Notably, the group has supported 35 unique local restaurants with $20,218 in additional sales from FLAG donations.

Christine Lavelle, who manages orders and relationships with local restaurants, says that restaurants express great excitement and appreciation when lets them know they have been chosen for a delivery.

“It’s been really great to be able to help so many businesses through this,” Lavelle, a co-founder of FLAG of Somerset, said. “It’s nice to know that some of these businesses have heard of us, and even though they haven't reached out, they are excited to know that they are going to be a part of this,” Lavelle said.

In fact, the delivery orders from FLAG of Somerset may be keeping small businesses from shutting their doors. This became apparent to Lavelle as she was placing the order with La Bon Bakery for the Nurses Day cupcakes.

“When I had called them, I started talking and I said, ‘Wait a minute, I need to back up. Are you guys still open?’ and her response was, ‘We are for now,’” Lavelle recalled. “So you know, she was super grateful to have the business.”

While the current amount of funds raised is a colossal grassroots feat, FLAG of Somerset did not anticipate that their service would be needed for quite this long, and the group is struggling greatly to collect sufficient donations.

“People aren’t donating anymore, and if we don’t have the continuous support, we won’t be able to do it for much longer,” Kachurick said. “We're going to have to start to spread things out and try to hold on as long as we can.”

To continue collecting donations for this intiative, FLAG of Somerset has started to organize creative fundraisers, including charity fitness classes with local fitness instructors and social media campaigns with the Franklin Township Youth Council. However, standalone donations are still needed. Foley explains that the outpouring of financial and emotional support from the community be even more pressing now as the front line comes off the “adrenaline kick” and continues to get worn down.

While 2020 National Nurse’s Day has come and passed, Foley pointed out that the World Health Organization designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, another reason for the community to consider continuing their donations.

“At the hospital, we don't expect to be back to like a semi-normal until the middle of July - and that's a semi-normal,” Foley said. “This is not ending. So, we definitely still need the funds, and we want to provide for them as much as we can until they can finally say we've released our last COVID patient.”

Donations can be made to FLAG of Somerset through any of the following channels:

Financial Donations:

Meals: Please send an email to flagofsomersetcovid19@gmail.com or post directly on the FLAG of Somerset Facebook page for a response by an organizer

Fitness classes: Please send an email to flagofsomersetcovid19@gmail.com or post directly on the FLAG of Somerset Facebook page for a response by an organizer

Cards or other donations: Please send an email to flagofsomersetcovid19@gmail.com or post directly on the FLAG of Somerset Facebook page for a response by an organizer