Faith leaders in Kent County mobilize to urge community members to get the COVID-19 vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Kent County’s faith leaders gather to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

This week, Kent County’s COVID-19 Church Task Task Force launched its “A Shot of Love” campaign to mobilize local volunteers and promote immunization in underserved communities.

The Task Force is a collection of faith leaders from across the ward who have been working closely with Kent County’s health officials since April 2020 to support public health.

Rev. Khary Bridgewater, deputy pastor of the Grace Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, said the group had been monitoring conditions since the pandemic began. He said the group’s charge was the safety of the fellowship, which is why the churches were closed in November.

After the churches reopen, there is a new challenge: to introduce the vaccine to keep their doors open.

“When we looked back at the data, we saw some things that made us particularly concerned,” said Bridgewater. “One was that the vaccine was available, but there were some concerns in certain communities and we wanted to make people feel that the vaccine is meant and safe for them. We realized that we need clear confirmation from the faith community. “

What followed was a campaign that used faith leaders and volunteers to hold a series of vaccination rallies and registration drives across the community.

The campaign is aimed at communities with lower socioeconomic status, Bridgewater said. He said the group is looking for communities with less access to transport and a higher minority population that will work together to create broad “indicators of social vulnerability” that the campaign will tackle.

The first event on March 23rd drew 50 volunteers to the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, who went door-to-door to help residents sign up for the vaccination. Other volunteers occupied walk-up registration tables or field calls. It served over 100 people, Bridgewater said.

While organizers haven’t posted details on their website yet, the next scheduled visit is on Saturday, March 27th, at Iglesia Vida Plena in Wyoming. However, Bridgewater said the volunteer support and need in the community has the potential to step up that effort from a handful of events to a daily effort.

“We originally planned to do 10 of these, but when we got into the community we actually think it was going to take a lot more effort to really do what we call saturation registration,” said Bridgewater.

“The Shot of Love campaign should really make people understandable. We want to go door to door until people feel safe and comfortable with the vaccine and can answer their questions. “

The momentum only picked up when Bridgewater said more volunteers want to get involved and the campaign may be able to work on a daily basis. The task force has even partnered with Cornerstone University, which will make students available to help with the door-to-door effort.

“There should be a nice little army of people trying to protect our community,” said Bridgewater.

The level of support for the campaign has been underestimated, but Bridgewater said the reach of the campaign will only increase to help more people as volunteers can be vaccinated so they can help people register.

“We did not expect this and all the calls we are now getting from churches and ward groups who want to volunteer. So we try to make sure that we can actually register volunteers and organize them so that we can deploy them in an efficient way, ”said Bridgewater. “But yeah, that’s a good problem.”

While volunteers proved essential to the campaign’s success, Bridgewater also highlighted the partnerships between private and public organizations across the community that have been able to mobilize efforts and make a difference.

“Grand Rapids is already a tight-knit city where people take care of one another,” said Bridgewater. “The denomination, the nonprofit, all the partners in the community really pull together to care for one another.”

Bridgewater said the task force’s website will be continually updated with information on rally and registration drives, as well as updates from the group. More information can be found here.

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