Local Initiative Supporting Morristown Medical Center Ignites National Movement

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(Front) President of Morristown Medical Center Trish O'Keefe presented with a $50,000 check from New York Life Head of Global Marketing Operations Jomil Guerrero and (Back) FLAG Co-founders Gina McGuire and Liz Bernich. Bernich and McGuire’s work – delivering more than 30,000 meals equating to over $200,000 during the height of COVID-19 through the FLAG of Chatham/Madison – was recently recognized by the New York Life Foundation through their Love Takes Action Award program.

One evening, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liz Bernich, a financial services executive recruiter from Chatham, New Jersey, was on her phone looking at Facebook when a story caught her eye.  People in her childhood neighborhood of Huntington, New York, were delivering meals to front-
line caregivers, and she thought she could do the same for Morristown Medical Center. What started with Bernich and Gina McGuire, a public-school administrative assistant in Madison, New Jersey, raising awareness and funds through Facebook and making phone calls to family and friends, ignited a movement. Today, the pair finds themselves at the center of a new national trend – supporting both restaurants and healthcare workers through the pandemic– with 117 additional FLAG groups across 26 states.  The original group is now a 501©(3) nonprofit organization they aptly named the Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG).
 
Bernich and McGuire are stunned by the enthusiasm.
 
“It blows my mind,” McGuire said. “I never would have imagined that our efforts would culminate in other FLAG groups opening across the country and as far away as Hawaii.”
 
Bernich and McGuire’s work – delivering more than 30,000 meals equating to over $200,000 during the height of COVID-19 through the FLAG of Chatham/Madison – was recently recognized by the New York Life Foundation through their Love Takes Action Award program. Bernich was nominated by Chatham neighbor and New York Life Head of Global Marketing Operations Jomil Guerrero and was awarded a $50,000 grant to give to her nonprofit of choice. She chose Morristown Medical Center as the recipient. The New York Life Foundation chose 34 additional community members from across the nation who embody “love taking action” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to honor as part of New York Life’s 175th anniversary.
 
Atlantic Health System Vice President and Morristown Medical Center President Trish O’Keefe, PhD, RN, is immensely grateful for their ingenuity and commitment.
 
“Our community has been a powerful source of strength and inspiration during this pandemic,” O’Keefe said. “Liz and Gina saw a need and immediately acted. Words cannot adequately express how grateful we are to FLAG for their incredible kindness and support. They took charge of some of the most basic needs for our team members, giving them one less thing to worry about so they could focus all their energy on caring for patients. The FLAG name came to mean more than food – what they brought was comfort and encouragement during some tough times. We are forever grateful for their leadership, friendship and generosity during this challenging time.”

In addition to the FLAG of Chatham/Madison, the FLAG of Summit delivered 18,000 meals to the hospital, the FLAG of Chester/Mendham delivered 1,800 meals, the FLAG of Morristown/Morris chapter provided 7,500 meals and the FLAG of Mountain Lakes, Boonton Township, Boonton, Denville and Montville arranged more than 4,000 meals. In fact, in all Atlantic Health System hospital locations, FLAGs supported front-line caregivers with meals during the height of the pandemic.
 
“The communities behind each of the FLAGs are obviously incredibly supportive of their front liners.  The impact of their generosity is enormous,” Bernich said.

What’s next for FLAG? McGuire said FLAG would continue in a slightly different capacity.

“We are focusing on catered meals, especially during appreciation days and weeks for first responders, nurses, etc. We also would love to sponsor a breakroom at Morristown Medical Center and drop off snacks throughout the year,” McGuire said.

No matter the act, showing appreciation for those on the front line will remain at the heart of the mission.

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