After Fair Haven Community Health Care saw a massive swell of support at its new vaccine campaign kick-off event on Saturday, community members continued to step up on Sunday. Volunteers aimed to knock on every door in their neighborhood, handing out informational flyers and offering vaccination appointments to the Fair Haven community.
Around 10 volunteers gathered inside FHCHC’s headquarters at 374 Grand Ave early on Sunday morning. Some were canvassing for the first time and received lavender shirts emblazoned with the campaign’s slogan: “Vaccinate ¡Fair Haven! Vacunate”. The clinic plans to have volunteers continue knocking on doors in the coming weeks as more people become age-eligible for the vaccine.
“Health care is a human right,” said David Weinreb, an FHCHC volunteer coordinator for the vaccination campaign. “We’re going to keep planning strategically around the best ways to get the word out, especially as the message changes. There’s meaningful follow-up to do in the neighborhood.”
According to Weinreb, who is also a board member of Fair Haven’s Community Management Team, around 110 appointments were made over the weekend. He said the clinic continues to receive daily calls from neighbors interested in the vaccine. Over 90 percent of Fair Haven’s doors have been knocked on, and the clinic has volunteers scheduled to continue closing gaps throughout the neighborhood. Weinreb encouraged all interested New Haven residents to reach out and sign up for shifts, especially as Gov. Ned Lamont announced yesterday all residents aged 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine by April 5. Residents aged 45 and older will be able to schedule appointments beginning March 19.
Suzanne Lagarde SOM ’14, the CEO of FHCHC, said that after relocating their vaccination facility to the Wilbur Cross High School gymnasium on March 3, the clinic was able to increase their vaccination capacity. Operating from Tuesday to Friday, FHCHC now provides close to 500 vaccines each day — three times as many as they did when vaccinating out of their own Grand Avenue facility, Lagarde said.
Lagarde added that while FHCHC was seeing their regular patients for vaccine appointments, the clinic wanted to reach the larger community. Before last weekend’s door-knocking campaign, both FHCHC and other local organizations planned to form partnerships in order to address disparities in vaccine access.
“I’m less worried about our patients because we are calling our patients literally one by one and trying to get them in,” Lagarde said. “I’m more worried about people in this community who are a block away who don’t come to us as patients, and that’s largely an undocumented immigrant population.”
Lagarde said while they have vaccinated over 60 percent of their patients, they decided to partner with “trusted local organizations” — like the immigrant rights group Unidad Latina en Acción — to allow community organizers to sign up New Haveners they work with for a vaccine appointment directly into the FHCHC system. She added that the clinic decided to participate in the campaign in order to address barriers some individuals may face, like transportation to the clinic and a lack of vaccine information available in Spanish.
ULA Coordinator of Advocacy and Partnerships Megan Fountain expressed similar concerns about barriers to vaccinations for the Fair Haven community.
“Black people and Latino people are not being vaccinated at the rates white people are,” Fountain told the News. “The director of FHCHC [Lagarde] … called up grassroots organizations like ULA and other community groups that have close ties to the community and said, ‘The community trusts you, so you can get the message out to your people and I’m going to give you the power to directly make the appointments and schedule the appointments.’ And that was huge.”
These concerns led local organizers and health care officials to launch the “Vaccinate Fair Haven!” campaign on Saturday and Sunday. Local organizers, including Fair Haven resident Kica Matos, ULA Community Organizing Director John Jairo Lugo and Weinreb, gave speeches calling residents to action on Saturday. Event partners included ULA, NHPS advocate Sarah Miller, Ward 1 Alderman Eli Sabin ’22 and Elm City Communities.
President of Elm City Communities Karen DuBois-Walton ’89 said that the campaign was a “really important community effort” intended to address health disparities that were brought to light by the pandemic.
“We had a really great turnout of people, definitely Fair Haveners, but people from across the city and from beyond who wanted to get involved and really be a part of trying to create health equity,” Walton told the News. “It just all came together really quickly because of a great group of volunteers that wanted to make this happen.”
DuBois-Walton said volunteers were provided with hand sanitizer and were required to social distance during the canvassing. She added that people who could not canvass were still able to volunteer by calling Fair Haven community members.
A number of other public officials were present on Saturday to lend support, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro. Mayor Justin Elicker was also in attendance and gave a speech in both English and Spanish.
Sabin said that after Fair Haven resident Matos reached out to him, he helped the campaign by plotting canvassing routes for the volunteer door knockers. He called Saturday’s event “incredibly inspiring” and said he had great conversations with community members while canvassing.
The campaign continued on Sunday, with a smaller number of volunteers gathering at FHCHC to hit the streets that hadn’t been reached the day before.
Darlene Casella, a long-time resident of Lombard Street, said that she had scarcely been out of her home since the beginning of the pandemic and had never canvassed for FHCHC before Sunday. Neither had Sofia Tecocoatzi, whose family lives and works in the area. Nevertheless, the two strangers were an efficient team, knocking on their 50 doors on their assigned section of Rowe Street. Casella spoke to residents in English, while Tecocoatzi reached Spanish speakers.
“I’m excited,” Casella told the News. “I think it’s a great thing to do because lots of people — especially Hispanic and Black people — are hesitant to get shots.”
After stopping at Rocco’s Bakery for cannoli on their way back to FHCHC, Casella and Tecocoatzi called the experience “tiring,” but both said they were happy for the fresh air and exercise.
Karena Zhao ’22 also canvassed for the first time on Sunday. Knocking on doors was an adjustment, she said, but the passion and energy of the other volunteers kept her spirits up. Together, they were able to speak to a number of residents who were unsure or hesitant about making an appointment.
“One man in particular, although he seemed to be one of the people who were most apprehensive about the vaccine, was still really willing to speak with us and voice his concerns about the vaccine,” Zhao said. “I think it led to a really helpful conversation for both sides.”
Residents can call the Fair Haven Community Health Care hotline at (203) 871-4179 for information related to COVID-19, testing or vaccine appointments.
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