For Lorenzo Liberti, a rising sophomore at Lakewood Ranch High School, every nick he makes on a panel of pine that goes toward his hand-carved American flags means something to him.
“It’s a symbol of freedom,” Liberti said. “It’s a symbol of unity, and most importantly, it’s a symbol of passion. [Veterans] fought for this. … It’s a sign of victory, [that] even though we may be distressed, even though we may have lost the battle, we haven’t lost a war. We have to get up and keep moving.”
When the pandemic hit, Liberti wondered what he could do with his flags to support the community. He thought of his mom, Martha, who is a medical assistant with the First Physicians Group of Sarasota. She has been helping nurses and doctors handle the pandemic.
That’s when inspiration struck. He wanted to show support for his mother and all health care workers by making a 7-foot flag for Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
“[Martha Liberti] is a hero just like any other military personnel and any other veteran,” Liberti said. “That’s the reason why I started this flag. She deserves one just as much as anyone else.”
On May 20, Liberti went to the hospital to deliver the flag, which now hangs in the cafeteria.
“I hope when somebody comes by, no matter their condition, that they take the time to look at every little bit of the flag, and they really think about how the [American] flag came about,” Liberti said.
He wanted to do more, so he set a goal of having a 3-foot flag hung in at least one hospital in every state.
The Liberti family started a Go Fund Me page to raise $50,000 with $20,000 going toward covering the costs of making and shipping 49 flags and the other $30,000 being donated to Turning Points. Turning Points is a nonprofit dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness.
“As a parent, you try to encourage your child to embrace challenges,” said Liberti’s father, Gaetano. “He already has a track record for delivering, and so while I was a little cautious because I know it’s a good amount of work, especially with school starting, I’m confident that he will be able to pull it off.”
Liberti’s goal is to send flags to the hardest-hit states first.
“[Health care workers] are the ones who are not only risking their own lives, but they are saving so many others as well,” Liberti said. “They are remarkable.”
Inspiration to make the flags came from a visit to a homeless shelter with a group from his Lakewood Ranch church, Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church, in January 2019.
A Vietnam War veteran caught his eye. He started talking to the veteran, who shared stories of when he and his brothers went to war.
“Our heroes, the veterans, come home from war, and some of our heroes we just kind of forget,” Liberti said.
When summer came, Liberti wanted to find a project to keep him occupied. He looked online for different ideas and stumbled upon an American flag project that interested him.
“In high school we get up and say the pledge every day,” Liberti said. “We say it kind of brainlessly. Half of the time, we’re just joking around with each other. I would see on the news some people are standing, some people are kneeling. The thing is, I wanted to know what the flag really means.”
His first flag was made of a single sheet of plywood and red, white and blue paint. The flag now hangs in his garage.
Liberti decided to take it a step further with trial and error in carving, which he had never done before.
When his brother, Valentino; neighbors; and teachers wanted a flag, Liberti thought if he made more flags, maybe he could give back to the homeless shelter where he was first inspired.
Liberti started making flags to sell with the profit going to Turning Point’s Yellow Ribbon Project, which focuses on providing services for homeless veterans and their families in Manatee County.
Liberti was invited to a Turning Points gala, where he donated two flags for the silent auction that were sold for more than $2,300.
“The reason why I wake up early and go to bed late is that I’m doing this for a cause that is bigger than me,” Liberti said. “It’s not about the money. It’s about the stories that I’m trying to keep being told because the second that I stop is the second somebody stops paying attention.”