Community organizers arrange free vaccination clinics and internet access in underserved areas

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Community organizers arrange free vaccination clinics and internet access in underserved areas

There is a stark disparity among races getting vaccinated: more than 60% of vaccinations have been going to White people, less than 9% to Hispanics and less than 6% to Blacks. – CBS News

Seeking to overcome vaccine hesitancy, the Biden administration is unveiling the “We Can Do This” campaign. It features television and social media ads, and also relies on a community corps of public health, athletic, faith and other groups to spread the word.

“No matter the community, trusted leaders are the best way to boost confidence,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. Those skeptical of the vaccines are most likely to be swayed by local, community and medical encouragement to get vaccinated, rather than messages from politicians. – CBS News

How do community organizers translate a grand vision into meaningful action that makes a difference in people’s lives? How can grassroots groups support vaccination efforts? How are the rich gaming the system to take vaccinations meant for the poor? What is the COVID-internet death spiral that causes more deaths in Black and Brown communities?

This blog describes:
How Mothers of Hope organized a free COVID vaccination clinic for the poor in Kalamazoo
Using public service to build contact lists and community organizing
How they are fight the COVID-internet death spiral with free internet access for the poor and homeless

Mothers of Hope organized a free COVID vaccination clinic that vaccinated almost 2,000 people.

Community organizing

Organizing gets other people to take action, to work together. An organizer is always building and maintaining relationships. You need to know who they are, what they care about, what they are willing to do, and how to get in touch with them. To organize people, you need to know them and they need to know you. They need to know you are sincere, competent, and that you care about them.”  – Interfaith Council

Stephanie Williams is an outstanding community organizer and the Program Director of Mothers of Hope in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The nonprofit group empowers and strengthens women, families, and communities to rise above the effects of substance use disorders, poverty, violence and systemic inequities. [DONATE]

Organizing a COVID vaccination clinic

Mothers of Hope, set up a trial run for a new state system with a plan to vaccinate Black and Hispanic residents in specific zip codes. State of Michigan awarded the clinic 2,500 vaccinations. Mothers of Hope through community outreach hosted three clinics and got shots in the arms of close to two thousand residents. They used an online scheduler link using JotForm for people to sign up for appointments.  People could also call, text, email or use Facebook Messenger to request an appointment. It teamed with other groups to organize the clinic:

Black Women’s Roundtable – Champions justice and equitable public policies that center racial, economic and gender justice to promote health and wellness, economic security & prosperity, education and global empowerment as key elements of success.
Advanced Health Pharmacy – compassionate care and advocate for good, affordable, accessible health.
Family Health Center – To ensure that all members of the community have access to quality, comprehensive, patient-centered health care and the preferred medical home for at least 70,000 underserved patients in Kalamazoo County.
Black Voters Matter – Helps development infrastructure where little/none exists.

Mothers of Hope organized a free COVID vaccination clinic in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Mothers of Hope COVID clinic in Kalamazoo, MI

The rich jump the vaccination line

Mothers of Hope used its community relationships to spread word about the free COVID vaccination clinic. The announcement of the clinic was shared online through Facebook so people with access to the internet got a head start in registering for a vaccination. The poor and homeless had a much tougher time.

“But once the word got out their phone lines were bombarded. Some people of means would lie about their race and demand they get vaccinated first. It was really disheartening,” said Williams. “People wouldn’t stop calling even if they didn’t qualify and this prevented others from registering for their appointments”.

Mothers of Hope was forced to go underground to make sure the right people got vaccines. “Doing one-on-one contact, a lot of it was knocking on doors. A lot of it was going to the larger families that we know in the community and saying can you spread this to the people in the neighborhood,” said Moore.

COVID-internet death spiral

Marginalized communities without internet access causes more COVID deaths.

Leveling vaccination opportunities with free internet access

death spiral is a situation in which a series of events or actions, especially as a consequence of one another, ultimately lead to a point of ruin. The lack of internet access by which the poor cannot find out vaccination opportunities is a death spiral.

Mothers of Hope provides free internet access at different locations in Kalamazoo with a DemLabs WiFi hotspot. The hotspot is moved to different locations include their community center, outside homeless shelters and even at a barber shop. The hotspot lets the poor get free internet access and check for opportunities to get vaccinated as well as use the internet for email, web surfing and making phone calls. They also see ads encouraging them to get vaccinated while they are online.

Mothers of Hope builds opt-in contact lists with the contact details of people who use the hotspot. This information is used for community organizing by calling and texting them afterwards when they are offline.

Vaccines for everyone

“Vaccinations for the coronavirus are supposed to be free and available to all Americans regardless of insurance or immigration status.

At vaccination sites around the country, people have been turned away after being asked for documentation that they shouldn’t need to provide, or asked to pay when they owed nothing. In part, this has happened as businesses administering the vaccine try to recoup administrative fees they are allowed to charge to the government and private insurers. To aid them in passing along the bill, major pharmacies ask those being vaccinated for their Social Security numbers and insurance information. They aren’t supposed to deny a shot to people who aren’t covered or try to make them pay the fees.” – ProPublica

Local groups serving disadvantaged communities

Black Coalition Against COVID-19 (Washington, D.C.)
Organizes D.C.’s community leaders to urgently mobilize and coordinate all available community assets in complementary and collaborative support of D.C. Governments’ efforts, and especially those of D.C Health.
St John’s Well Child and Family Center (Los Angeles, CA)
Works tirelessly to address the ravages of COVID-19 on the communities of South Los Angeles (LA) and Compton, comprised predominately of people of color. People in South LA are three times more likely to get infected with COVID and die at twice the rates of other parts of Los Angeles. [DONATE]
A.G. Rhodes (Atlanta, GA)
Operates three nonprofit nursing homes in the greater Atlanta area where about 90% of the residents are African American. [DONATE]

TakeAway: Arranging local COVID vaccinations clinics and free internet access lets community organizers reach and help more people.


Image credit: Hakan Nural on Unsplash
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