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FLAG: Front Line Appreciation Group Central Valley

Nov 16, 2020 10:29PM ● By Melissa Mendonca

Meals That Matter

October/November 2020
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos courtesy of Front Line Appreciation Group Central Valley

To a front line worker—whether an overextended wildland firefighter or a critical care nurse working with COVID-19 patients – a meal from the community is more than nourishment to keep going. It’s love and appreciation and affirmation that their hard work is acknowledged.

Those are many reasons lifelong Fresno resident Tali Whelan decided the Central Valley needed a Front Line Appreciation Group, something she’d read about uplifting a New Jersey community. “With the COVID pandemic, I wanted to figure out a way to give back to my fellow healthcare providers as well as the local community,” says Whelan, a registered nurse who studied at Fresno City College after earning a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies at San Diego State. She had volunteered at a San Diego hospital “out of curiosity” and fell in love with nursing.

Front Line Appreciation Group, or FLAG, uses community donations to purchase meals for front-line workers from local restaurants. The money filters through the local businesses, which have also been hard hit by the COVID pandemic, and warms the hearts of first responders who receive the meals. “They’re extremely grateful to get that business,” says Whelan. “A, they feel really good about what they’re doing to deliver meals to first responders. B, they need the income. They’re really struggling.”

Some, like Spicy J’s in Fresno, had individual stickers printed up for every meal they delivered, noting not only their own restaurant name, but FLAG as providers of the meals. “I try to spread the love,” she adds. “I try to use restaurants from different parts of town.” She also serves rural parts of the Central Valley, and pairs with local restaurants wherever there is a need.

For meal number 3,000, the organization got festive and paired up with Best Buddies to deliver meals to Community Regional Medical Center, where some of the individuals partnered with Best Buddies also happen to work. People within the Best Buddies organization made cards and signs in support of the front-line workers. “Something as simple as a homemade card is very touching,” says Whelan, who adds that the Girl Scouts have also contributed cards for meal deliveries.

While the local FLAG chapter was founded as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly encompassed first responders working at the recent Creek and other area fires. The valiant Air National Guard members who rescued 200 individuals trapped on a mountain during fire season were fed by the organization.

“There’s a lot going on in the world right now,” says Whelan, who was impacted by COVID-19 when the dermatology practice she worked for slowed down considerably. She is now a full-time, stay-at-home mom to three children and is expecting her fourth in February. She operates FLAG from home and says she’s enjoyed the challenge of networking for meal deliveries and meeting new people.

“It was a lot of phone calls to figure out who I need to connect with,” she says of the project’s start. “Now I have a point of contact at every hospital and healthcare clinic.” She’s also secured large donations from foundations and business that combine with individual contributions to keep going.

“We’re funded 100 percent by donations,” she adds. “I’ll continue as long as the donations continue.”

As she tells the story of FLAG in the Central Valley, one phrase keeps getting repeated: “It’s more than a meal.” Regardless of who is served, the message goes well beyond an effort to fill bellies. “It’s getting the community to stand behind you at a really challenging time,” says Whelan. “I grew up here. It’s an important place for me. I want to be a helpful community member.”•

Front Line Appreciation Group Central Valley • (559) 349-3778

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