Monica Toomey introduced a simple idea to her philanthropy group in Bloomfield Village, thinking they could raise a little money and buy some meals for local medical personnel working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it has become bigger than she imagined after launching Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG) Metro Detroit just more than a week ago on Facebook. FLAG has grown to nearly 10,000 members and raised nearly $65,000.

The money goes to the more than 30 local restaurants that have signed up to participate. They provide healthy, individually wrapped, grab-and-go meals for about $6 apiece to more than 20 local hospitals.

“We just don’t want them to think they’re forgotten,” Toomey said of the front-line medical workers. “We’re laying hands on your back and you’re not forgotten.”

Toomey was inspired by a FLAG organization in Chatham, New Jersey that formed to help keep local restaurants afloat while taking care of medical personnel working long shifts during the crisis.

“It was just so simple and I’m like, ‘I can do that,’” said Toomey, who then reached out to her philanthropic friends. “You want to help everyone, and you feel this weight. You want to help so badly, and it seems like an unending need. That’s how the whole team is. We are all obsessed with it.

“That night I put together the Facebook group and said, “Let’s see what happens. This will be fun.’ We launched it, and it kicked in right away. We made $1,000 the first day.”

Initially, the plan was to provide food in the Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham area, but the group quickly expanded the scope to include all of Metro Detroit.

Restaurants like Steve’s Deli, Vinotecca (which has provided 545 meals to three hospitals the past two days), Moe’s on Ten, Phoenicia (the first restaurant to deliver meals last Saturday) and Social Kitchen and Bar prepare the meals and deliver them to a designated spot at the hospitals, where staff members pick them up. At Beaumont Royal Oak, wheelchairs are used to make the pickups.

Dustin Walker, general manger of Social, along with manager Maggie Derthick, said it was a “no brainer” to get involved with FLAG. Social made 60 meals of freshly sliced turkey subs on freshly baked bread from the Rising Star Academy bakery, house-made chips and kale salads that were delivered earlier this week to Beaumont Royal Oak.

Social remains open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. for carry-out and chef Mike Shaw came in on his day off to prepare the food.

“His wife is in health care and he took a lot of pride in packing them,” Walker said.

Toomey and her group are the connectors between hospital and restaurants, and leave the delivering to the restaurants.

“When Maggie and I pulled up to the hospital, we had this weird wave come over us,” Walker said. “It truly is kind of like a war. It wasn’t scary, but it was like, in that building there are people fighting for their lives. That’s true for any hospital anyways, but we’re standing outside this building where people are fighting to save people. It was really a surreal feeling. Hopefully they feel appreciated even in these small little ways.”

FLAG Metro Detroit has inspired a spin-off group about to start in Ann Arbor, as well as groups in Lansing and West Michigan and also a few states. Toomey, who said her faith drives her in this work, said the goal is to feed 2,000 health-care workers a day. The group is bringing in close to $10,000 a day and feeding about 1,600 daily.

“We’ve got money, we’ve got need, we’re helping people,” Toomey said. “It’s so fun because you’re giving back. You’ve got these amazing hospital staff who are just so ridiculously appreciative, and it’s crazy to me, because I’m like, ‘We are appreciative to you. A meal is nothing compared to what you’re doing.’ People are tired of seeing negative news and they want to go somewhere where they feel lifted up and there’s something good and a silver lining to this chaos.”

To donate, visit FLAG (Front Line Appreciation Group) Metro Detroit on Facebook or

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