Late March, 2020, COVID-19 protocols closed all non-essential operations. We were all told to stay at home and isolate. Healthcare workers across New York State were frantically trying to save lives as people tested positive for this virus. Our pandemic journey had begun.
The uncertainty rattled many. The stock market crashed. I was getting urgent calls, emails and text messages from so many people. There was fear in their voices as they worried about their businesses, jobs, loved ones, friends, themselves, and our community. It was difficult to stay upbeat. An email from Lisa Munter changed all of this for me.
She sent the same email to Angelo Calbone, the President of Saratoga Hospital. “We’d like to raise funds to provide meals to hospital workers on the front lines fighting the pandemic while supporting local restaurants at the same time,” Lisa said. “We see you are both on the front lines of communication and know the latest needs. We’d like to help.”
“This is a great idea,” Angelo responded. I pledged the Chamber’s full support as well. Within a few days, FLAG Saratoga was launched. FLAG stood for “Front Line Appreciation Group.” Lisa along with Becky Kern, Laura Greenway, and Nadine Burke raised more than $40,000.
These funds were used to purchase meals from local restaurants — who were only allowed to do take-out. This food was then delivered to local hospital workers, first-responders, and nursing home employees. FLAG Saratoga helped save local restaurants. The meals they delivered helped demonstrate how appreciative we all were in this community of the heroes on the frontline of this public health crisis.
Now nearly two years later, these four women with the help of the Saratoga Hospital Foundation and the Saratoga County Chamber have relaunched FLAG Saratoga. That’s because the pandemic is unfinished. Our local healthcare workers are still on the front lines. People are still getting this virus, being hospitalized and dying.
“Our team has been fighting the pandemic for nearly two years, and they are exhausted,” said Toni Bishop-McWain, the Vice President and chief nursing officer at Saratoga Hospital. “Lately, some are discouraged because much of the recent sickness and death could have been prevented. Yet, as I see firsthand every day, they remain committed to taking care of each patient with skill and compassion. FLAG’s reminder that our frontline workers are valued and not alone will mean the world to them.”
This time, FLAG Saratoga is delivering wellness products and grab-and-go snacks. Once again, every effort is being made to spend every penny raised at local businesses. Many are also in a position this time to donate some of these items. Last week, we made the first deliveries to 28 different locations in Saratoga Springs, Wilton and Malta.
Inside the baskets of goodies, the FLAG volunteers were able to include thank you notes written by local children. “Thank you. Your hard work is appreciated,” one said. “Thank you so much for everything you do,” said another. “Thank you for putting your life on the line and protecting our community from COVID,” added another. I’m told the thank you notes, snacks, hand creams, coffee, soaps, and other items were a big hit.
The Chamber provided some funding to kickstart this relaunch. Our hope is the community will add to this fund. Donations can be for any amount. You can visit www.saratoga.org and click “Donate to FLAG Saratoga.” To learn more, please visit the FLAG of Saratoga Facebook group. Let’s demonstrate once again that we are Stronger Together and united in our support for our local healthcare heroes.