I recently spent a day volunteering at the vaccination center that has opened near my home. I was assigned to the front door in a sort of Wal-Mart greeter position. I would call out the appointment times in five-minute increments, ask everyone who entered, “Do you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath?” and distribute information about what to expect after receiving a vaccine. I answered questions as best I could and tried to keep the lines moving.
I was utterly blown away by how quickly a former craft store was transformed into a pop-up medical facility, structured down to the last detail to ensure patient safety and comfort. Volunteers took temperatures, registered patients, and provided assistance wherever needed. Clinical volunteers, many doing this in addition to their paid jobs, vaccinated patients and oversaw the post-vaccination waiting area. A young woman interpreter accompanied Spanish-speaking patients throughout the entire process, offering explanations and reassurance.
During this past year, I have been holed up in my house, watching the pandemic unfold on a screen. But getting just a tiny glimpse of how we have come together to fix this nightmare was a revelation. I mean, who figured all this out in such a short time? Transforming empty stores, installing wi-fi networks and computers, providing security for vaccine transport, creating appointment websites, organizing hundreds of volunteers, making sure all of the paperwork is correct– the list is endless. And this is happening in communities all across the country. A year ago, even six months ago, we had no idea that we’d be vaccinating the entire population, let alone developing a plan about how to do it.
What I saw on my first day as a Hope Squad volunteer was nothing short of a miracle, and I will admit, I struggle with those who whine and criticize the efforts being made by our government, flawed as it may be. There are hundreds of thousands of dedicated people–from the brilliant researchers who developed the vaccines to the lovely gentleman providing wheelchair assistance at the local center who are helping to save lives every single day. I think in this world of “if-it’s-not-my-political-party-it-has-to-be-wrong” attitude, it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re actually accomplishing together as a country.
The Hope Squad is great branding and a catchy name to encourage volunteerism. But it also describes what I saw taking place in a former AC Moore store a few miles from where I live. It didn’t matter who you were or what the hat you were wearing said—if you had an appointment, you were warmly welcomed and received a life-saving vaccination. If you didn’t have an appointment, information was provided to help you get one. Everyone who entered was treated with kindness, respect, and understanding. The faces I saw coming through those doors reflected anxiety and apprehension but also relief and gratitude. Having the opportunity to experience this first-hand gave me hope in a year that’s felt bleak and depressing in so many ways.