SOMERSET, NJ - In under two weeks, a group of four local women has mobilized more than 1,200 Somerset community members to fund and deliver fresh meals for our healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic while supporting local restaurants who have been negatively impacted by the crisis.

Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG) of Somerset was founded by Kathleen (McGrath) Foley, a local nurse who has witnessed the tremendous work - and dire need - of our healthcare workers. Through social media, she read about the nationwide FLAG movement and the local chapters across New Jersey keeping local businesses afloat while fueling the frontline.

She began reaching out to friends with a simple question: “What about something like this in Somerset?”

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Before she knew it, Foley had rallied four members of the community around the cause, including Sue Kachurick, Christine Lavelle, and Denise (Stuewe) Quenault. These old friends - many of whom are parishioners of St. Matthias Catholic Church -  decided to use their diverse talents and community connections to launch their own FLAG chapter.

“All of a sudden, we just formed this group of four women who just have a mission to truly help the frontline and our area restaurants,” Quenault said.

FLAG of Somerset takes off

Hours after creating their Facebook page, the Somerset chapter gained immense momentum, raising close to $2,000. Within its first two weeks, the page gained more than 1,200 community members and raised over $17,500 from over 300 different individuals.

The funding is then used to purchase meals, usually in quantities of fifty. Lavelle and Quenault explained that participating restaurants are local, often family-owned spots that are favorites in the community.

However, what has been especially moving to group of women has been the outpouring of generosity from the local businesses that FLAG of Somerset was designed to bolster.

“When we’re getting food for the front line, we choose restaurants, but more and more we have had restaurants that have reached out to us that want to help out,” Quenault said.

Some local restaurants are offering discounted meals, matching donations, amplifying the community’s desire to serve our healthcare workers. Some restaurants have even donated 100 percent of the meals on behalf of the group. Just last night, Jersey Mikes on College Avenue donated fifty sub sandwiches to the frontline at St. Peter’s on behalf of FLAG of Somerset. They’ve also received donations of Girl Scout cookies from local Girl Scout Troops.

“It's really great to know that even though our mission is to support the local restaurants, so many of them want to support our mission and support the frontline workers in exchange,” Lavelle said. “Everybody keeps giving, and it's just wonderful to see.”

Using these financial and food donations, FLAG of Somerset has served almost 400 meals from a total of eight local restaurants while fostering a rich partnership between Somerset residents, local businesses and restaurants, and our local hospitals.

To ensure that the deliveries are accepted and hand-delivered, the group coordinates with the St. Peter’s Food Services Department as well as with Carol Negvesky, the Director of Communications at St. Peter’s University Hospital, who is also Foley’s sister.

Foley explains that these connections ensure that our “forgotten warriors” are recognized, and that the food is delivered to departments that need it most.

 “We're really leaving it to the discretion of the hospital as to where they think [the food is most needed],” Foley said. “You know, are these people getting a little bit sad? Who needs a little boost in morale?”

A Special Easter Delivery

Early April, Venus Jewelers of Somerset started their own fundraising campaign to support the cause, collecting and matching donations from their clients to be earmarked for FLAG of Somerset. In just ten hours, the campaign raised a total of $1500.

“With the Easter holiday coming up and working with a religiously affiliated hospital, we thought it would be a great idea to provide a nicer meal for the frontline workers on that particular day,” Lavelle said, acknowledging that healthcare workers also sacrifice time spent with their families on such holidays.

Using the large donation from Venus Jewelers, FLAG of Somerset will be able to fund a full Easter Dinner to St. Peter’s this Sunday, which will be prepared and delivered by Stagehouse Tavern to deliver a full Easter Dinner to St. Peter’s this Sunday.

Kachurick explained that the immense support and “amazing thoughts and feelings” from every corner of the Somerset community has made a situation that is emotionally draining into something that rather empowering.

“I think this just says something about how people are feeling right now,” Kachurick said. “Everybody just needs something like this to keep us going.”

Restaurants and residents: Here’s how to contribute

FLAG of Somerset relies on donations and plans to continue running operations until the crisis is over. If a restaurant owner is looking to participate in any way, they can post on the FLAG of Somerset’s Facebook page or email organizers directly. Residents who would like to financially contribute can do so by Venmo, PayPal, or check.  

Even if you can’t financially contribute, FLAG of Somerset organizers want to make it clear that you can still pitch in through small acts of kindness.

The organizers recently received a donation from a local community member of 150 homemade cards — creatively labeled as PPEs: Personal Pocket Encouragement — to be sent to healthcare workers along with the meals. This donation inspired to group to solicit homemade cards from the community to be paired with each of the Easter meals headed to St. Peter’s this Sunday.

Foley suggests that if kids are home and bored, they can write up cards to “make them feel like they’re doing something good.”

“Kids also need a little positive something right now, too,” Foley said.

Quenault pointed out that joining the group’s Facebook page and sharing their posts is another easy way to propel the movement even if you are unable to financially contribute.

“We know people are struggling, and a lot of people are going through some hard times right now … so I don’t want people to feel like they have to donate to participate,” Quenault said. “Just sharing the word is very helpful because you might get the one person that’s going to make that huge donation.”

Lavelle explains that connections are becoming even more valuable, because while the group took off, donations are slowing down.

“Every little extra connection that people are making is definitely helping to bring more of the support in every way possible,” Lavelle said, specifically thanking the St. Matthias community for its extra promotion of the initiative through their parish bulletin, weekly school announcement, and social media pages.

To Kachurick, any effort big or small to help Somerset is not isolated to our community, but also positively impacts communities around the United States.

“Supporters who were watching what we do, they are often inspired to start their own sites, as well,” Kachurick said. “We were inspired by others, and it’s just trickling down. It’s really amazing to see how it’s growing ... We’re not just helping our local community, but we’re helping people help their communities as well.”

Donations can be made to FLAG of Somerset through any of tthe 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

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

Small businesses in Franklin/Somerset: To help our communities during this difficult time, TAPinto.net is offering all local businesses free content marketing services on TAPinto.net through April 30th through our self-serve platform, including press releases/announcements and event listings. Businesses can submit hours of operation, offers, services, and much more.