We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to support our local restaurants in their real time of need. Residents and the community need to do the same. Whether it’s getting takeout or buying gift cards, the local restaurants that are a vibrant part of our community need our help, and I know my local community is stepping up.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Robertson.
Patrick Robertson is a 17-year-old Junior at West Morris Mendham High School, in Mendham, New Jersey.
As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted every aspect of our world, Patrick saw the impact on his local community and was inspired to help. He learned about FLAG (Front-Line Appreciation Group), and founded a local chapter in his community. FLAG buys food from local restaurants and delivers it to local Front Line Workers such as hospital staff, nursing home/care workers, Police, Firemen, and First Aid Squads. This benefits both local restaurants (who receive business in large quantities), as well as Front Line workers who receive free meals. Patrick plays football, basketball and lacrosse, and is interested in pursuing Sports Business Management and Marketing after high school. He is also involved in a number of student activities, including serving as a representative for student council and the Junior Sportsmanship Committee, and an active member of Service Club, Friends and Buddies and the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). As the founder of FLAG of Chester Mendham, he’s grateful for the ability to demonstrate his gratitude to those risking their lives to help others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I’m a 17-year-old rising Senior at West Morris Mendham High School, in Mendham, New Jersey. Mendham is a small but historic town, about an hour outside of New York City. I have a twin sister, and we both spend a great deal of time hanging out with our friends. For me, I spend a lot of time outside, either on the turf playing football and lacrosse, or on the hardtop playing basketball. When not studying or playing sports with friends, I usually spend a lot of time at local restaurants. On the education front, I’m in the International Baccalaureate program, with a particular focus on Business.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I was inspired to create a FLAG chapter in my community, because I wanted to do something to demonstrate all of our appreciation for front-line workers, particularly nurses, and the brave work and countless hours they’re spending dealing with the pandemic. FLAG (Front Line Appreciation Group) of Chester-Mendham (New Jersey), began as a nationwide movement to honor Front Line workers for the work they do in the battle against COVID-19.
Just as important, I saw an opportunity to help local restaurants, who have had their business fall off a cliff as a result of the state’s shelter at home mandate.
FLAG buys food from LOCAL restaurants, and brings the meals to the workers on the front lines: hospital staff, nursing home/care workers, police, fireman and first aid squads. FLAG has created a win-win for everyone: It benefits the local restaurants, at a time when they need business, and also benefits the front line workers who receive free meals. 100% of donations and money raised go directly toward food, flowers, signs, etc. for the Front-Line workers.
Since FLAG of Chester-Mendham began, we’ve been able to:
· Feed 1,600 Front Line workers;
· Create more than $16,000 in revenue for local restaurants and businesses (all donations will eventually be spent on meals for Front Liners)
· Raise nearly $20,000 in donations.
My mother, sister and I have personally delivered all the meals to the Front-Line workers, and have deliveries planned for the foreseeable future as the program continues to expand.
Just as important, FLAG of Chester-Mendham has helped galvanize our community, bringing everyone together and inspiring neighbors to participate and contribute.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
It was really two-fold. When the pandemic first hit, I couldn’t help but notice two emerging themes:
· First, you had all these doctors and nurses and other front-line workers who did not have an opportunity to work remotely, or work from home. Instead, they were spending countless hours each day, risking their lives, and many of them putting their own families on hold so they could tend to and help those corona virus patients.
· Second, my friends and I really do spend a great deal of time at local restaurants. Having those restaurants unable to serve people in their place of business, not just in my town but all over, really hit home. I couldn’t help but hear all sorts of stories about the restaurants struggling and that many may go out of business.
When I first learned about FLAG, it was really an opportunity to do something that would address both of these issues, and that was something I was really drawn to.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
The final “Aha Moment” for me was speaking to Melissa Spiotta, the Head of Morristown, NJ FLAG and meal coordinator for Morristown Hospital. As a teenager who doesn’t have much time with three sports and academics, I was worried I wouldn’t have the bandwidth to take on such an important role. She stressed to me that people will begin to help you out and come to you for business. She was exactly right! In just the first week of collecting donations, FLAG of Chester Mendham raised nearly $6,000. We were overwhelmed with the community’s support and appreciation. The Mendham Moms promoted our efforts via Instagram, Facebook, as well as mass emails to the community. Many children wrote very kind Thank You notes for the Front Liners to go with their meals. I was also very appreciative of the support from all of the local restaurants who did not hesitate to give FLAG of Chester Mendham discounts, food donations, as well as publicity in order to keep donations coming in at a consistent rate.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
There’s a few things that I would recommend before starting a project like this:
1. Do Your Research — Before committing, make sure you reach out to those who went through something similar, or took on a big assignment or opportunity. Even if they were unsuccessful, they’ll provide you with much needed insight and lessons that you can take into your own situation.
2. Get Organized — Make sure you use your time early on to get organized, including creating a channel or Facebook group. This will help give you a sense of aligning your resources within a central group or platform, and save you time.
3. Promote Your Organization — Start to get the word out early and leverage multiple channels. Send emails, do lots of posts on social media, talk to local groups who can help create a viral/word of mouth campaign. Don’t hesitate to share your idea and campaign with as many people as possible.
4. Seek and Engage Partners — Reach out to key local influencers and community partners. In my case these were restaurants. They were eager to not just fulfill orders, but more importantly help and participate in donations themselves.
5. Do Not Procrastinate — No better time than the present, so get going right away with making the project happen.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I think the most interesting thing that happened was the relationship I developed with some of the hospital workers, and as a result, the stories they were able to share with me. As a result of the relationships, I often have first-hand information about the severity of the pandemic, including the number of patients being admitted and discharged daily from Morristown Medical Hospital. Speaking with these nurses and security officers about the downfall of positive cases in the hospital, and seeing their happiness that corresponds with the decline of positive patients being admitted, has given me more optimism. Just seeing the community come together as they did to support these heroes was truly amazing. The Front Liners were also just as appreciative when they received meals, desserts, drinks, flowers, and generous thank you cards from the community and FLAG of Chester Mendham.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
When I first started, I was keeping tabs of all donations, withdrawals, and Front Liners fed in a paper notebook. I was doing all of the calculations manually, and was worried I would lose the notebook. After three weeks of receiving and withdrawing large amounts of money as well as feeding hundreds of Front Liners each, I decided to create a google spreadsheet which could add all of the numerical data itself. This taught me new ways of using technology to keep myself organized, but also was reassuring that all my data and numbers were in a secure location and would not get lost easily.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My mentor throughout this process has been Melissa Spiotta, the head of Morristown, NJ FLAG. She has addressed all my questions from day one. Since April 11th, when I first spoke to her, she has provided me with guidance and advice related to FLAG but also other ideas that I can take with me into my senior year and beyond. I’m very grateful for her mentorship and her friendship.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
After initially speaking with Holly Manor: a nursing home with more than ten fatalities resulting from the pandemic, I learned that they were not able to receive food donations because of sanitary precautions. I asked them how I could help. They asked me to help find a company who they can purchase PPE from in bulk, since they were limited to the amount they could purchase due to shortage issues. FLAG of Chester Mendham was able to get a company called “Weprotect” to donate 100 masks to Holly Manor. I also left a basket in my driveway for people to donate/drop off disinfectant products for Holly Manor. After getting the word out through Facebook for disinfectant product donations, I received many items from concerned and generous residents to give to Holly Manor. Finally, Holly Manor was eventually able to accept food donations, so FLAG of Chester Mendham was able to purchase food from a local restaurant and feed all eighty staff workers on duty that particular day. The Holly Manor staff was incredibly appreciative, and sent a thank you card to FLAG of Chester Mendham thanking us and the community for our overwhelming support.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Overall, from my experience, I think there are three things that can be done to help solve the overlying problem brought about by this pandemic.
· Support Your Local Businesses — We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to support our local restaurants in their real time of need. Residents and the community need to do the same. Whether it’s getting takeout or buying gift cards, the local restaurants that are a vibrant part of our community need our help, and I know my local community is stepping up.
· Support Our Front Line Workers — Our front line workers are risking their lives and the lives of their families to care for people each and every day. Find ways to support their efforts. This can be done easily through organizations like FLAG, but organizations and employers of front-line workers should also receive other tangible benefits for the commitment they’ve made to care for us and our loved ones.
· Show Your Gratitude — They get up early, they work countless hours, and they deserve our thanks. Taking care of people is their job, but many never thought they’d be putting their own lives on the line as a result. Residents, politicians and our community need to recognize and applaud the sacrifice front-line workers have made. And this does not refer solely to doctors and nurses, but also administrative and janitorial staff in healthcare centers and hospitals, grocery store workers and trucker drives and all of those people who have kept us going and kept us fed during this difficult time.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Managing My Time: At the beginning, it was a bit challenging trying to figure out how to best split my time between schoolwork and FLAG. For example, I was regularly confronted with the dilemma of trying to squeeze in a food delivery to the hospital during one of my breaks in my academic schedule (i.e. lunch/study hall). I’ve had to really stay organized and on top of everything, given some of the uncertainties of my schedule and the schedule associated with FLAG. That also includes taking into account unexpected changes in schedule. I’ve learned how to juggle multiple priorities.
- Money Management: Prior to starting FLAG of Chester Mendham, I had very little exposure to the banking process. As a result of this endeavor, I had to speak with a representative from the local bank, who was able to educate me on the proper way to manage the financial side of this organization, including how to properly withdraw money, manage cash flow daily, and keep responsible accounting of the very generous donations FLAG was receiving. This has given me a new appreciation for how money and finances work.
- Community Response: As FLAG grew roots and the donations started pouring in, I was confronted with the issue of having to respond to people in my community and via social media (e.g., Facebook). Many people were anxious to help, often with a variety of suggestions on how to allocate the money. I had to effectively manage these suggestions made by the community, and have tried to incorporate as many suggestions as possible and that made sense. There have been several positive suggestions on how FLAG of Chester Mendham can support businesses, beyond what we’re already doing. While we can’t realistically do everything, we are exploring additional ways to expand how we support our community.
- Social Media Management: It’s been tough to keep up and respond to all of the suggestions and feedback, as well as post updates regarding money and deliveries. As a teen, most of my social media time is spent on Instagram instead of Facebook, so I had to teach myself how to use that specific platform since the majority of donors are engaged in Facebook.
- People Management: I’ve done the bulk of the work with my mom and my sister. And it definitely is a different experience telling your mom what to do, having her look to me for direction, and working with her on the finances of the organization. She has been extremely helpful with regards to coordinating with restaurants and delivering food when myself and sister are unavailable because of online schooling. It has been a pleasure working with both my mother and sister but it does definitely feel weird having conversations about running a business, and brainstorming additional food options for the Front Liners.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Whether you’re from a large city or a small community, it feels great to give back and do something meaningful and memorable. It is truly a rewarding experience to give back to the town you call home, and create a positive impact that is noticeable and maybe even inspiring to others. An older generation did its part to help lift us up and create a more positive experience, and it’s very satisfying to know that the people who need and want support the most are appreciative.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
For me, I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with LeBron James. I’m a huge fan of his on the court and all he’s accomplished in the world of basketball, but I’m also a huge fan of him as a person. He continues to inspire millions of people each day with the creation of his “I Promise” school. LeBron’s contributions transcend sports, and his school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio is a terrific expression of not just writing a check to help your community, but building a solid platform to benefit the next generation. His “LeBron James Family Foundation” supports this initiative and many others that benefit kids.
How can our readers follow you online?
Facebook page: Patrick Robertson
Public Facebook Group: FLAG (Front Line Appreciation Group) of Chester and Mendham
Thank you for all of these great insights!