Monday, February 26, 2024

Flower Mound rallies around first responders, healthcare workers

Flower Mound People Helping People members Leeland Jay McDonald (left), Jenny McDonald (third from left) and Frank Klarich (right) deliver meals donated by local restaurants to the Flower Mound Police Department. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

When the coronavirus first hit, Jenny McDonald was in the same position as millions of other people around the country: furloughed and worried about what would happen next. Naturally, she turned to the news for answers but was met daily with grim statistics, horror stories, and updates on increasingly stringent social-distancing guidelines.

But somewhere in the middle of all that negativity on the news, a feel-good piece caught her eye.

“It was a story on a group in New York that came together just as that state was getting hit the hardest,” she said. “They had sent staffers at a local hospital some pizza, and I thought, ‘well, I mean … that’s something I can do here.’”

What happened next went beyond a few slices of deep-dish pies. McDonald, with help from her new friend Tracy Black and a slew of Flower Mound residents and business owners, kick-started several campaigns aimed at providing food and other necessities to anyone in need. Along with that, they partnered with and supported area restaurants and spent a great deal of time showing first responders exactly how many people appreciate their efforts during these difficult times.

Just a few of the first responders included those at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Flower Mound, Medical City of Lewisville, the Flower Mound and Lewisville fire departments, and the police departments from both cities.

From smaller events at nursing homes to having enough food to feed 400 hospital staffers in a single day, they did it all.

“It’s been humbling to see the community come together. None of this would have happened without everyone’s support,” McDonald said. “My grandfather was the captain at a fire station in Dallas, and it was taught to me since I was little that you drop donuts off to the fire station and show appreciation. What’s unique is to see the response from this community and its leaders. They may not all hold a seat on the council, but they all have influence. That’s what community is for me.”

Black, who is the general manager for the Flower Mound Youth Sports Association, wholeheartedly agreed.

“A sense of community is vitally important in the best of times, and it is critically important in the worst of times,” he said. “Community can be the glue that holds society together; we’re helping toward a common cause.”

Ironically, McDonald and Black didn’t know each other before this initiative. They described that meeting and everything coming together the way it did as a perfect storm.

Soon after watching the news story on New York, McDonald wrote a post on a Flower Mound Facebook group page to see how many people might be interested in feeding the staff at Flower Mound Presby. There was an overwhelmingly positive response, so she then reached out to a representative at the hospital. Surprisingly, that rep told her that Black had just dropped off several goody bags and also expressed interest in feeding the staff. The suggestion was that the two of them connect as quickly as possible.

Black was creating a Flower Mound People Helping People group on Facebook, similar to those that already exist in Colleyville and Southlake. So when he and McDonald finally connected, it was clear they needed to join forces.

“I added her as an administrator to the page. She has a lot of experience from running previous campaigns in her life, and so she was absolutely at the forefront of making calls, putting this vendor with that vendor, etc.,” Black said. “We made a really great team; God just kind of put us together at the right time.”

The Facebook page served two purposes: to give local residents a place to ask for help and to provide opportunities for people who wanted to help. McDonald negotiated prices per meal plus 25% gratuity with local restaurants such as Jet’s Pizza, Jersey Mike’s, and others and then collected financial donations from selfless residents.

“We had a letter-writing campaign, a feed-the-hospitals campaign, nursing home food drives, and we even delivered groceries, mulch, and plants to people who couldn’t leave their homes,” Black said. “None of those would have happened without substantial donations from the community. I remember putting it out there and wondering, ‘Well, what happens if we can’t feed 200 people at a hospital?’ As it turns out, we had more than enough.”

McDonald said that even when money was harder to come by, people were stepping up in other ways.

“As it got more difficult, it was around the time that restaurants were opening back up and were okay with donating food,’” McDonald said. “So there was a transition, and that allowed us to keep showing our appreciation to first responders. I was always on the phone, and Tracy was the behind-the-scenes guy making sure everything got done the way it was supposed to get done. We both did a lot of Facebooking, and people kept responding.”

As for the future of Flower Mound People Helping People, the page has more than 1,100 members and won’t be slowing down anytime soon. McDonald and Black said they always hope to offer assistance when needed — even now, as people are returning to work and finding a small sense of normalcy.  It’s just nice to know that when times get tough, there are people out there who won’t bat an eye when it comes to helping others.

“Everyone I have spoken to has our first responders’ backs,” McDonald said. “Change is always something that we all need to look at, but I’ll never forget that when we’ve needed them, they’ve been there for us. I love seeing their smiles, and if I can do even a small part in connecting everyone together, then it’s something I’ll keep doing until my last breath.”

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