HAMILTON — While everyone has struggled with restrictions over the past year, there are many in our midst who believe service is an important part of the cure for surviving the COVID-19 pandemic and the long hours of dedication are making a difference.
Turning Hamilton's St. Francis Church into a hub for coronavirus vaccinations took some safety considerations.
"We had to make sure to follow all the CDC guidelines, including masks and sanitizing," explained volunteer Parish Nurse Nancy Dezell. "Space people out in the pews, for example, and even here in the center, you know, we've got the chairs properly marked so that they are 6 feet apart."
But what resulted is probably one of the best examples of how communities can come together to fight the pandemic. For weeks now, dozens of volunteers have teamed with Bitterroot Drug and Osco Pharamacy to vaccinate their friends and neighbors, at the pace of hundreds per day.
“We feel very blessed," Dezell told MTN News on the morning of another long day. "I've got a few that will be here all day. So for example, we've been at it since 7:30 this morning and a little earlier to get things ready and will be here till six or later tonight.”
Anxiety is ambushed with Nat King Cole background music, an old western to watch while waiting and a smile. “I welcome them," volunteer Arlene Preuss relates how she combats anxiety. "You know, I say ‘good afternoon’ or ‘good morning!’ You know “how are you doing today?”
Monica Virtaneva was among the Bitterrooters anxious to get her second shot, "oh, I've been waiting for this day for over a year, so I'm really happy today. We are so thankful for everybody that has dedicated time for this.”
Lygia Skipper, who seems to be filling a dozen roles at once, says it's the atmosphere that helps people relax, "everybody that comes here is so happy to be here that the environment is to so uplifting. I really enjoy doing it.”
The morning shots were given by Bitterroot Drug staff, with the entire system adjusted when Osco Pharmacy came to give both first and second shots -- as well as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine -- in the afternoon. Pharmacist Roman Chinikaylo says the volunteers are making all the different in keeping things moving smoothly, with 400 doses being administered today along.
“It's been nothing short of incredible. They've been so great. We walk in and I feel like we do the easy part. Everything is already pre-set up. They've been wonderful hosts.”
All of the volunteers I spoke with talked about what an opportunity this has been to help their friends and neighbors and a blessing to do their part to fight against the pandemic. "And I really, really wish that we would have everybody in this county, every single last person vaccinated in this county because the more we vaccinate the more we’ll get rid of it," Preuss stated.
It's a determination, underpinned by care and compassion. Something Dezell notes has been lacking in the country of late. “And just being nice is part of the whole thing that we've been struggling with as a as a nation, and as the world, so why not just start from right here at home?”
“You go into health care to help people, and so I don't see any other any better way right now than to vaccinate the community of Hamilton," Chinikaylo noted.
We asked the women why they'll spend dozens of hours doing this for their neighbors as the weeks of vaccination continue.
“It's my gift, you know," Preuss answers without hesitation. "I have been gifted in more ways than one, you know 'cause there's been times when I shouldn't be here, you know, and I am. And it’s a gift.”
“It does my heart good," Skipper says. "Because you know God has always directed my life and I think He’s still directing it for me. Easter is still directing it for me, so yeah. Whatever I can do!"
Dezell was also reminding people finished with their second shots to take a picture of their vaccination cards on their phone, and keep the cards with their passports for safekeeping.