It didn’t take long for volunteers with the grassroots organization FLAG Wilco to unload food and other donated items from five trucks parked in front of the GraceWorks Ministries building Monday afternoon.
With help from a few football and lacrosse players from Page High School and a scattering of others digging in and hauling, the trucks were quickly emptied and GraceWorks had another 4,000 pounds or so of food, toiletries and paper products for the drive-through food pantry it has conducted since the coronavirus outbreak took hold in March.
In no time at all, FLAG Wilco (front line appreciation group of Williamson County) fulfilled another need in the community, somewhat reflecting the pace it has grown since two Franklin moms started the group with an April 3 launch on Facebook. It has grown to more than 1,700 members and counting.
“We wanted to give back to our wonderful community and help navigate through this tough time,” said Vanessa Sokic, mother of four children who cofounded FLAG Wilco with Nola Gephart. “One hundred percent of the donations go directly to fuel our frontline workers.”
The idea for FLAG Wilco came from a friend of Gephart’s who lives in New Jersey, where the virus has been especially taxing on frontline workers. Gephart, also a mother of four, saw an opportunity to form a chapter of sorts in Williamson County and to spread the word — and recruit volunteers and seek donations — through social media.
“The idea is threefold,” Gephart explained. “We want to keep our hard working frontline workers and our vulnerable portions of our community fed. At the same time, we’ll support our hard-hit local restaurants and provide our community a way to help while staying at home.”
FLAG Wilco began with the delivery of meals to Williamson Medical Center, fire departments, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, social workers and a number of food-insecure families. The group also provided meals for urgent care clinics and the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home, with food purchased from 25 mostly local restaurants.
“[FLAG Wilco has been] absolutely amazing,” said Karen Krieg Phillips, a critical care nurse at Williamson Medical Center. I wish I could express how much this helps.”
Volunteers from FLAG Wilco were delivering meals to GraceWorks staff when they turned their attention to the ministry’s food pantry.
“It became clear to us that this was an obvious need when we went to deliver food to frontline workers at GraceWorks,” Gephart said. “They shared with us how desperate the need is for pantry items. So we did what’s called fill-a-truck. It was a weeklong endeavor where we contacted the 1,700-plus members on our Facebook page and asked them to put the word out on their community pages.”
Valencia Breckenridge, CEO and president of GraceWorks, said FLAG Wilco exemplifies the ministry’s mission statement, “Neighbor serving neighbor, by the power of God’s grace.”
“A group like FLAG Wilco is a reflection of our statement,” she said “They are neighbors serving neighbors, and they represent the generosity of our community.”
In addition to providing meals for frontline workers or donating goods for a food drive, FLAG Wilco is placing an emphasis on helping area restaurants, especially those that are locally owned. It’s no secret that restaurants have suffered financially through the outbreak, with revenue down from 30% to 70%.
“Our goal is to help keep their doors open through these difficult times and keep their staff employed,” Sokic said.
As Sokic, Gephart and others from FLAG Wilco wrapped up their delivery to GraceWorks Monday, they turned their attention to this week’s recipients, nurses throughout the county. Next week, it’s military families.
“Whatever the community needs are, we have tried to morph ourselves into helping with that all the while supporting our restaurants,” Gephart said.
“We are so grateful for each and every donation no matter how big or small. Our community has done so much good through the FLAG Wilco movement. We feel honored to simply carry out what the community has helped to create.”