- April 6, 2020
By the time nurses and medical professionals are well into their night shift, eating options are few and far between.
So when FLAG of Central Florida co-founders Jason Hoffman and David Linn showed up to AdventHealth Orlando Thursday, April 16, with bags of food, the atmosphere changed a bit.
Alongside representatives from St. Johns Evangelical Lutheran Church in Winter Park — who sponsored the meal — and The Halal Guys, Hoffman and Linn helped hand out meals to the nurses and medical workers from four different units who made their way down to the lobby.
“They all came down really with the same message of gratitude,” said Linn, a MetroWest resident. “I don’t think that people really realize that these frontline responders — nurses, doctors and hospital staff — are putting their lives in their hands to treat the rest of us who come down with this disease.
“Those people are doing God’s work, and those are the people (who) deserve the recognition,” he said. “They came down overwhelmingly thanking us … and I’m like, ‘You know, all we are doing is providing you guys with food.’”
But the simple act of giving food means a lot to the people who are willingly putting themselves in harm’s way during the coronavirus pandemic. Medical workers have been worked to the bone, so trying to make their lives better — even by the slightest of margins — is why Hoffman and Linn are now doing what they do.
FLAG — Front Line Appreciation Group — was started in Chatham, New Jersey, by Liz Bernich, who was looking for a way to help the community. Her idea was simple: feed medical workers while also showing support for local restaurants during the pandemic.
The concept was to have people give monetary donations, which would then be used to purchase food from local restaurants that could be delivered to hospitals and other facilities.
A week into its existence, Linn’s sister — who happens to live in Chatham — told him about FLAG. Immediately, Linn jumped on the phone and contacted Hoffman.
“Honestly, when Dave called me, I had just been furloughed eight days prior — he knew about it — and two seconds into the conversation, I was like, ‘I’m in, tell me what you need — let’s just do this thing,’” said Hoffman, a Windermere resident
After a conference call with the folks in New Jersey the following day, FLAG of Central Florida launched April 1. Five days later, FLAG delivered its first meals — from OverRice Food Truck — to AdventHealth Winter Garden.
Many of the donations that have come in since that first delivery have been around the $5 to $10 range, but recently, FLAG also has received larger donations from businesses, Hoffman said. One of those — Certified Mortgage Planners up in Lake Mary — happens to be where Linn works.
“One of my co-workers started to spread the word about what I was doing … and I really didn’t want to push it and hold up the little cup and say, ‘Pass this around,’” Linn said. “She wrote an email out to our staff … and as of yesterday (Friday, April 17) they had raised just over $1,600, and the owners were matching donations. They really came through in spades for us.”
Along with getting meals to AdventHealth locations and Orlando Health, FLAG also is serving its healthy meals to the different police and fire stations all over West Orange County — including the Ocoee and Windermere police departments and Ocoee Fire Rescue. Overall, in its first two weeks, FLAG delivered 328 meals to those on the frontline, but they expect to deliver 400 to 500 meals this week alone.
For those who know Hoffman and Linn, there was no surprise when they got involved with FLAG — it combined the two things they both love deeply: food and community.
Hoffman’s father and grandfather both were caterers, so he grew up around food. That’s why having the opportunity to provide good food to those needing it is the best feeling, he said.
“When Dave called me, I had just been furloughed eight days prior — he knew about it — and two seconds into the conversation, I was like, ‘I’m in, tell me what you need — let’s just do this thing.’”
— Jason Hoffman, Windermere resident and FLAG co-founder
“It’s always been in my DNA,” Hoffman said. “Of course, we want to help feed the first responders, but to be able feed them through the local restaurants who we know are hurting? That, to me, is a win-win.”
In Linn’s case, growing up in a big Italian family in Michigan helped forge a lifelong passion for food. For him, food is as much about bringing people together as it is anything.
“I truly have a passion for putting a smile on someone’s face,” Linn said. “If we can give back just a little bit and put food in their bellies, I’m thrilled to do it. I would love to keep it going.”