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Community Mobilization Powers United Way’s Support of Vaccination Clinics

Written by Chris Wells, Executive Director, United Way of Thurston County

"We're saving lives today."

In the cold, pre-dawn hours of March 5, 2021, Incident Commander for Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, Mark Moffett, addressed nearly one hundred non-clinical volunteers gathered at SPSCC, preparing for the first of hundreds of vaccination clinics that we hoped would mark the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic that had upended all of our lives. 

Two weeks earlier, Thurston County Public Health and United Way of Thurston County partnered together to plan the clinics, as vaccines were finally on the horizon. We knew the effort would require thousands of volunteers and many months of hard work, and we would need the determination and commitment of our entire community to pull it off.

And Thurston County delivered. In the year since that first clinic, where more than 2,000 people received their first doses of the vaccine, United Way of Thurston County has mobilized nearly 2,000 non-medical volunteers, who have staffed almost 5,000 shifts at 320 clinics, in 43 different locations, serving a total of 24,000 hours. UWTC volunteers took on tasks ranging from traffic control and reception, to patient monitoring and vaccine record-keeping. They reassured people who were anxious to receive their shots and begin to return to their pre-pandemic lives. They cheered the people waiting patiently in line, they encouraged timid children, and they applauded each other when they were exhausted after many challenging hours of community service.

As one volunteer put it, “Volunteering at the vaccination site was one of the best experiences I've had during the pandemic. After more than a year of masks and isolation, it was incredibly moving to see so many smiles and to briefly connect with strangers on such a personal level. The day I volunteered, I spent 5 hours standing in the freezing rain...not to mention the surprise hailstorm! And I'd do it all over again.” Another said, “Volunteering at the vaccination clinic has given me a way to battle this pandemic. A way to contribute to the solution even though I have no medical skills. I'm helping to save lives, and that has really given me a renewed sense of hope.”

And that’s the key, isn’t it? Hope is the root of resilience. And we are deeply grateful for every hope-filled person who gave so generously of their time over the last year, making these clinics possible; every local business that gave their employees paid time off to volunteer, and mobilized teams to serve; all of our public health professionals and government officials; our powerful network of nonprofit organizations who have done such extraordinary work to help steward our community through this crisis. It was an honor to support the work of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services that managed these clinics and to work alongside the many medical volunteers who provided clinical care.

This pandemic is not over. Not yet. But we’re a long way from those early, dark days, when there seemed to be no end in sight. And the one-year anniversary of the launch of those vaccine clinics gives us the perfect opportunity to pause, reflect, and give thanks for this beautiful community and the incredible people who live here.

United Way of Thurston County didn’t fill up all of those clinics. We just asked for help. And you all came. Joyfully, generously, and filled with a passion to serve. Thank you.