SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Becky Kern and her friends know difficult shifts are ahead for medical staffers at Saratoga Hospital.
They understand doctors, nurses, technicians, assistants and support personnel soon will be treating more victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kern and her team -- Saratoga Springs residents Nadine Burke, Lisa Munter and Andrea Macy -- last weekend launched FLAG Saratoga. The culinary operation means "Front Line Appreciation Group" and the mission is designed to send meals purchased from local restaurants to the front lines at the hospital.
Kern said accountant Burke came up with idea, borrowing the FLAG concept from a friend who began a similar group in New Jersey.
"Nadine was inspired by that and reached out to a couple of us and it was like. 'How can we keep this going in Saratoga?'" Kern said during a telephone interview Monday afternoon.
Macy, a business teacher at Shenendehowa High School, contacted the hospital.
"They were on board," Kern said. "They were getting a lot of requests from various people who wanted to donate, not just the [face] masks but also food. They were trying to wrangle that all together into one process."
Munter, whose work involves connecting non-profits with businesses, contacted the Saratoga County Chamber.
"They were the ones who put us in touch with all the restaurants and businesses that are currently still open to see which folks would want to participate," Kern said. "The great thing was the [Saratoga Hospital] Foundation was already set up with a website and a donation site, so we could just drive everyone to that link. So people give directly to the Saratoga Foundation, it's earmarked for 'FLAG Saratoga' so all the money raised will go directly to providing meals for the front line workers."
The operation started last weekend on social media, and Kern said responses came quickly: The group had raised $6,500 by the end of the weekend.
Nine restaurants have already signed on: Panza's, Putnam Market, Saratoga Broadway Deli, Palette Cafe, Hattie's Chicken Shack, 9 Miles East Farm, Dizzy Chicken, Eddie F's Deli and Sweet Mimi's.
Kern, who works in public relations for healthcare companies, said the meals will be small, "grab-and-go" style plates.
"We raise the money and the hospital will know how many they will serve on a given day," she said. "The hospital staff will actually reach out directly to the restaurants, they will organize and order the food and have the food delivered. The hospital will distribute the food to its employees.
"We're not in the food delivery business," Kern added. "We're just really doing awareness and fundraising, working alongside the hospital and then partnering the hospital with the restaurants and businesses that are in Saratoga."
Kern and her partners have been pleased with the response.
"It's just been all word of mouth on Facebook, it really shows what a really giving and loving community we have," she said. "What we were hearing was a lot of people wanted to help but they just didn't know how. Everybody is sort of stuck at home, they're on social media, they're watching the news.
"I think this is a really unique way where people can do a lot of good in a very little way," Kern added, "whether it's just $5 or a $10 donation. You're helping feed somebody who's working long hours and probably not eating that well or grabbing something quick. So these are all going to be really healthy meals from some of the greatest restaurants in our area. It's a win-win for everybody that's involved."
The first meals will be delivered sometime this week.
Restaurants interested in participating are asked to contact Munter at [email protected].
People can donate to FLAG Saratoga through the Saratoga Hospital Foundation, https://www.saratogahospitalfoundation.org.
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]