Saratoga County

Group raising the FLAG to lift restaurant industry, health care workers in Saratoga County

Four friends develop strategy to show gratitude to health workers while supporting restaurant community
Andrea Macy, Becky Ryan Kern, Nadine Burke and Lisa Munter outside Saratoga Hospital on April 14.
Andrea Macy, Becky Ryan Kern, Nadine Burke and Lisa Munter outside Saratoga Hospital on April 14.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Nadine Burke, Becky Ryan Kern, Andrea Macy and Lisa Munter are flying their flag for health care workers and the food-service industry in Saratoga County.

All of them were searching for a way to do their part to help the Saratoga Springs community during the COVID-19 crisis, and as the four friends got together they gravitated toward a strategy: Show their gratitude to the health care workers on the front line of the pandemic by providing them meals; and support an embattled restaurant community by raising money for eateries to provide the food.


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In short order, Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG) of Saratoga was born at the start of April. In less than a week, the group had raised more than $16,000 and established a network of more than a dozen restaurants in Saratoga County that had delivered more than 500 meals to Saratoga Hospital.

The four founders of FLAG of Saratoga recently sat down with The Daily Gazette via an online teleconference to discuss their organization’s efforts.

Q: So, how did you get this started, and how did each of you get involved?

Burke: I saw on a college friend’s Facebook page that she started a Front Line Appreciation Group in her town, and she’d modeled it after another friend from college who was part of the original group in a different town in New Jersey. Basically, I saw this was happening, and I knew right away that this would be so beneficial in our community of Saratoga, that workers at our local hospital could really be helped in this time and thanked and appreciated for everything they’re doing. And we have so many fabulous restaurants and eateries who could benefit from the additional business of providing meals to the front-line workers. I initially contacted Becky and said, “What do you think of this? Do you think we could get this off the ground?” She put me in touch with Lisa. Simultaneously, Andrea had the same idea. It all just came together from there.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Macy: I was watching one show after the next on TV, feeling somewhat powerless and helpless, and trying to figure out something I could do to be helpful in this situation and do something that would help our community. I spoke to Nadine and Becky, and we had very similar types of ideas. I said, first things first, we probably need to reach out to the hospital and find out if they’d be interested in partnering in something like this and, if they see the need, what could we do to try to facilitate that? They were extremely receptive to our bringing this up as a proposal to them. They were getting a lot of requests from the community as far as individual meals from families and different groups of people that were contributing, but they really appreciated the effort to put together some kind of centralized function to have people contribute to one source and then be able to donate the meals. They were great. From there, we talked about who would be the restaurants who would be interested in working with us.

Munter: Nadine reached out to me and said, “Who should we get this in front of that can help us parlay our message and our initiative?” I reached out to Todd Shimkus at the Saratoga County Chamber [of Commerce]. They have done an amazing job, just kind of streamlining and grouping all of these different dynamics together to support the community in various ways. I reached out to him, and he gave me a list of various restaurants that are currently open. From there, we sent them an email saying that if you’re interested, we’d love to add you to our list of options for the hospital to reach out to and order food. That’s really what my part is, and Todd’s really great about helping us spread the message to all the Chamber members. Every day I’m getting emails from restaurants saying, “Yes, sign me up. I want to be part of it.”

Kern: I think that the really cool thing about how this has taken off so quickly is that the four of us — and we’re all friends separately outside of this, we all knew each other — we all sort of had this shared mission in the back of our minds. It’s all about connections. It’s the connection between the four of us, and then our connections in the community that helped this all come together so quickly. It’s pretty inspiring. From Nadine’s original idea to Andrea reaching out to Saratoga Hospital to Lisa with the Chamber, they all kind of circled the wagons and then they came back to me and said, “Now what do we do? It’s all in motion, but we need to tell this story and we need to fundraise.” In order to get this off the ground, we needed the funds to do it. That’s kind of where my piece came back into play with putting together a Facebook page. The nice thing about working with the hospital is they had the website already set up to accept donations, so it really streamlined the whole process and became much of a lighter lift for us, because we weren’t trying to create a nonprofit group that we had to get a website started and all of that other heavy work. In less than a week, it’s truly remarkable, we’ve raised over $16,000, and we’ve arranged with the hospital and the restaurants for over 500 meals that are going to start being delivered.

Q: Is it incredible to think about how quickly everything’s come together like that?

Burke: It’s really a testament to people wanting to do something. Everyone’s home. A lot of people are on social media right now, feeling a little bit hopeless and helpless, wanting to be inspired and help other people. This gave everybody a real, local connection.

Luckily for our community right now, we’re not facing what downstate hospitals are facing, but it’s still an opportunity for people to give back locally. It’s amazing, the stories that we’re hearing. Not only do people want to support the restaurants that they love and make sure they’re all still here when we get through this, but they also want to support the hospital because people have such a connection to the hospital, unrelated to COVID-19. People had babies there or went to the ER for a broken arm. It’s really been able to channel this energy that people are feeling into a really positive thing.

Q: Even with how fast the process has gone, what have been the biggest challenges in getting this off the ground?

Kern: I think we each have different challenges, because we’ve each taken on a different role. I think what we’re eager to do is continue to get the message out to people. We’re using social media, we’ve got a Facebook page, we just started an Instagram today. We’re still looking at how we’re phasing the channels so we can continue the momentum. Obviously, this has started really strong, but potentially we’re going to need to sustain this over a period of months. We want to make sure that we’re reaching people in different ways. Not everybody is online or on Facebook, so how else do we reach people to make sure that we’re really providing opportunities to participate for those who want to?

Q: Is it challenging to get this off the ground when there’s not really a set timetable for how long anything will last?

Burke: We don’t know how long we’re going to be in this crisis mode, and [we’re] spreading out the funds we’ve gotten so that we can keep helping for as long as we’re in this crisis.

Macy: We want to continue to support the restaurants while they’re closed or working under these kind of constraints, and then provide some kind of relief — an uplifting meal, or just a message — to the folks at the hospital as well during this time of crisis and unknown and uncertainty. That’s the biggest challenge working through all this.

Q: With how hard the restaurant industry has been hit, how important is it to keep money flowing to them, to allow them to provide this service?

Munter: We can help them keep their employees on staff and that’s a big part of it, too. These eateries and restaurants are feeling the strain, and we want to help them keep their staff going.

Q: How inspiring is it to see the response you’ve gotten from the community?

Macy: If you think about Saratoga County and the Saratoga region and the track record preceding them — no pun on track record — I’m not that surprised, because it’s a very charitable, helpful, resourceful, resilient community. To see them come together for others, I’ve seen it time and time and time again.

Kern: Just to piggyback on what Andrea just said, she touched on the word resilient, and we’re such an amazing community where we are able to identify the needs and then everybody steps in and steps up to help and solve that need. It’s amazing, and it’s from all different areas. The response from our community is something that we should be proud of.

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Q: Moving forward, what are your plans to maintain and expand things as this crisis continues?

Burke: We want to stay true to what our core mission was, which was to help out the restaurants and the eateries that are suffering right now, and obviously the connection to the front-line workers. We were on a call as our small team this morning, talking about how the front-line workers can really be defined by more than just the hospital staff. There’s the pharmacists, grocery store clerks that are working, EMTs, fire departments. It’s almost like you could take this as far as we can go with it, and it’s all really depending on how much money we’re able to raise, because it will come back to that. If we can raise money and continue to help the community, we’ll continue to work hard to do that.

Categories: Rising to the Challenge, Saratoga County, Special Sections

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