CHATHAM — As fast as the novel coronavirus has blanketed New Jersey, efforts to help those battling the pandemic on the front lines seem to be spreading just as quickly.

One of the fastest-moving undertakings is the Front Line Appreciation Group, which has only been around for a month since its beginnings in Chatham, but has already spawned more than 30 other chapters across the Garden State, plus chapters in nearly half the other states in the country.

The first chapter was a collaboration between Liz Bernich and her friend Gina McGuire of Madison. Bernich saw a social media post about supplying hospitals with meals from local restaurants, and shared a screenshot within a Chatham community group on Facebook, asking if anyone might be interested in doing something similar locally.

"It immediately struck me that that was a brilliant idea, a great way to serve the hospital and keep the local businesses running," she said.

Within a few hours, Bernich had received a resounding response to her question: yes.

By the second day of the Chatham/Madison FLAG chapter's existence, McGuire said she was stunned to see $2,000 in her Venmo account from charitable community members — but that that's the kind of dedication the group needs to succeed.

"That's what this pandemic is requiring, fast action," McGuire said. "It's happening now. We don't have time to sit around and wait for money to come in. Let's do it now."

Other FLAGs are operating much as the first one has been, through Facebook, such as one in Hamilton, Mercer County, headed by Megan O'Donnell.

It took O'Donnell about 36 hours to get the Hamilton group up and running; after just over three weeks, they've raised $15,000, $8,000 of that already paid out to restaurants for a total exceeding 1,400 meals served.

That's only a fraction of the $1 million FLAGs nationwide have raised so far, with no end in sight.

"Our front-line heroes don't stop, so I strongly believe that all the people involved with FLAG across the United States, and especially here in New Jersey, we're going to keep doing our best to support them," O'Donnell said.

According to McGuire, each FLAG chapter has provided a platform for people to get involved even while staying home, to feel like they have purpose, and to make them feel good about themselves.

New groups are still being started every day, and for a list, you can visit As the crisis changes in scope, so will these chapters, to reflect the needs of their communities.

"Every one of our chapters is taking a slightly different twist to it, and that was our intention and our hope and our guidance was, please be nimble," Bernich said.

FLAGs of NJ: showing front line love

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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