SOMERVILLE, NJ - The emergence of individuals, families and grass roots organizations determined to reach out and make a difference helps to temper the real hurt and pain of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dozens of well-meaning initiatives in Somerset County have brought together people and their efforts have provided much-needed medical supplies, supported area restaurants, delivered supportive cards and letters to hospital workers and first responders,and given those who give a warm feeling.

The latest initiative was put into play earlier this week by borough resident Julie Mercier, a school teacher and coach in the North Brunswick school system.who, like most people, has gotten caught up in the pervasive need to do something.

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She's watched as her sister-in-law, Shawn Temple, has nurtured her start-up group, FLAG of Somerville (Front Line Appreciation Group) over the past month into a dynamic volunteer organization with hundreds of members and supporters who have donated thousands of dollars to purchase meals for staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital/Somerset as well as first responders, helping to support restaurants in downtown Somerville and surrounding towns.

Mercier offered to help FLAG, but her sister-in-law suggested other organizations with needs could benefit from her desire to help.

"We're all struggling within this quarantine culture, feeling super anxious and super lazy," Mercier said. "I know there are a lot of hungry people in Somerset County; I thought to myself, 'Put social media to a positive use.' "

As a coach, she's used to ordering apparel online for her teams, and knew that other organizations in other towns were selling t-shirts to raise funds for different causes.

Again, she went online, tracked down Twisted Ink Screen Printing in Flemington, made a call, and had a sales campaign ready to go within hours.

She also reached out to the Food Bank Network of Somerset County, located in Bound Brook, and offered to raise money through the sale of the shirts. They approved.

She reached out to friends and organizations online and by Wednesday, shirts were being sold.

There are four styles, ladies v-neck; youth t-shirt; adult t-shirt and long-sleeve shirt. All shirts are black with orange letters. Depending on style and size, prices range from $20-$28, with 50 percent of each sale donated to the cause. Shipping is free.

As of 11 p.m. Thursday, the #VilleStrong campaign had raised $670.

The shirts are available online through May 17. The goal of the campaign is to raise $5,000, according to Mercier.

Order online at: