Volunteers from at least 10 Christian Reformed congregations in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area have been actively involved in an effort to encourage residents in under-resourced neighborhoods to sign up to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.
The “Shot of Love” campaign is a partnership of a task force of urban faith leaders in Grand Rapids and the Kent County Health Department. The task force asked Volunteers in Service (VIS, a support ministry for Grand Rapids area Christian Reformed deacons) to coordinate volunteer registration, connecting them to neighborhoods that needed canvassing, said Andy Ryskamp, a CRC diaconal ministry consultant.
One of the churches that served as a gathering spot for the “Shot of Love” campaign was Madison Church’s Square Campus, a CRC congregation located just south of Grand Rapids’ downtown area. Volunteers gathered one Tuesday afternoon in front of the church to get instructions from VIS on how to conduct the door-to-door effort. They then fanned out into nearby neighborhoods to greet residents, ask if they had received a vaccination, provide information, and offer help with vaccine registration if they hadn’t had an opportunity.
“This is about mobilizing the church to connect with their communities for the sake of the kingdom,” said VIS executive director Bernita Tuinenga.
“It’s a good way to offer to a population that may not be as educated or as aware of knowing how to get signed up. It’s not about convincing them to sign up. That’s not it. It’s about bringing information and giving them the opportunity,” Tuinenga said.
Tablets were provided to each set of volunteers so they could take down information on each resident who expressed interest in being vaccinated.
“Some people don’t have access to the internet or they don’t speak English or they have trouble maneuvering around a website,” said VIS operations director Suzanne Reinink, who was at the Madison Square site that day. “We can [sign them up] right on site for them.”
Kristi Lewis, a children’s and family pastor at Madison Square, was among those who knocked on doors. When she heard about the “Shot of Love” campaign and the call for volunteers, her response was, “Why not?”
“I know there’s varying opinions [on vaccination], even within our church,” Lewis said. “But a lot of people from our church are passionate about making sure people can get it.”
Volunteers followed social distancing guidelines when contacting residents and wore masks while canvassing.
Nearly 100 people signed up for the vaccinations in the first couple of weeks of the door-to-door canvass, Tuinenga said. The outreach effort has also included phone canvassing and, more recently, connecting with area residents who are picking up food from local mobile food pantries, she said.
Other jurisdictions have also found that collaborations with faith communities and health care providers have increased access to vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, responding to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, recognizes the authorized vaccines to be “the key tool that will help bring an end to this devastating pandemic” (CDC director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, release, March 29, 2021)