In what has become one of his most-quoted talks, Mr. Rogers encouraged his young viewers during challenging or scary times to “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” The Valley has been lucky to have one of those helpers in Tali Whelan, a local nurse who answered a special call to duty.
Whelan found a way to rally the community in support of both front line workers and local restaurant owners when she founded FLAG Central Valley. FLAG [Front Line Appreciation Group] Central Valley gathers community-donated funds to purchase meals from local restaurants, and delivers them to those working on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight. Read on to learn about Whelan and her very special non-profit organization.
FresYes: FLAG is such an amazing idea – can you explain its function and the story behind its start?
Tali Whelan: Hi FresYes! Thank you for having me! My name is Tali Whelan and I am a local registered nurse and founder of FLAG Central Valley. I know what it’s like to work long shifts, care for critically ill patients, and be a part of emotionally difficult, and dire situations.
With restaurants suffering [due to the pandemic], many hospital cafeterias closed, and medical professionals unable to leave and get a meal, I knew I could fill a need in the community by feeding people and that is what pushed me to start FLAG Central Valley.
FY: Can you share a bit about the journey of FLAG since it began, and the reach and impact its had so far?
TW: Since our launch, FLAG has grown from supporting local hospitals to rural healthcare clinics, and first responders such as the fire department staff and others. FLAG is constantly looking for ways to grow community partnerships to engage and support local businesses while reaching as many health care providers as we can to show them support. To date, FLAG has delivered thousands of meals throughout the Central Valley.
FY: Has there been a particular experience of delivering meals that was extra rewarding?
TW: Recently we partnered with Best Buddies-Team Central Valley, a local nonprofit dedicated to assisting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Best Buddies interns made cards of support for healthcare providers at Community Regional Medical Center and personally delivered them. It was moving. Local schools have also sent cards of support too. Getting diverse communities involved has been a way to not only help local businesses and frontline workers, but to strengthen the great community we have in the Central Valley!
FY: What type of feedback do you receive when you drop off the meals?
TW: The feedback from local hospitals, healthcare providers, first responders, and restaurants has been overwhelmingly positive. Restaurants are grateful for the business and the opportunity to support those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers and first responders are moved and grateful for the fresh, delicious meal.
FY: So not only does FLAG support Front Line Workers, but it also supports local restaurant owners – how many restaurants have you been able to purchase meals from so far?
TW: To date FLAG has worked with over 28 restaurants and food trucks throughout the Central Valley! All of our partners are locally owned, with firm roots here in the Valley. To get involved, restaurants can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FY: How can people help financially? Do you need volunteers who may not have extra funds, but can donate time or skills?
TW: Word of mouth and creating a place for community involvement is important to us. So many individuals want to help, but don’t feel like they know how. With FLAG, individuals can volunteer and engage from home. Getting the community involved is at the core of our mission/cause. We have partnered with the Girl Scouts of Central California South, Best Buddies of Fresno, the local Miss America organization, Toca Madera Winery, Quady Winery and more. We’ve adopted the mentality that, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
In order to continue, we need monetary donations. We have various donation sponsorship packages for those who would like to support a meal package. We also value individual donations and accept them at any amount with gratitude. Donations can be made via our website at www.flagcv.org.