CHARLOTTE – When Melissa Parker, Vice President of Patient Advocacy at Novant Health, was tasked with gathering volunteers to assist at a public vaccine clinic in Forsyth County, she began recruiting informally, by word of mouth.
While it may seem like a strange way to launch a major volunteer operation, it makes sense when you consider the rapidly changing landscape of vaccine production and allotment. “We had to stand up volunteers very, very quickly,” says Parker, “So I reached out to a small network of friends to say hey, can you come tomorrow.”
On January 25th, that handful of rapidly-recruited volunteers served at a newly opened vaccine clinic at the old Sears department stores at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. As those volunteers worked the fledgling clinic and Novant worked on creating a centralized mechanism for signing up volunteers, something wonderful happened.
“Each person who came was so moved by being a part of the solution to the pandemic; they wanted to come back again and again,” says Parker. “They started telling their friends, and very soon we had 150 people. Everyone who hears about the opportunity is excited and wants to help, and then once they do it, they tell their husband and their adult son and their next door neighbor and their Sunday school class and their fraternity, their business, their teacher – they all want to help.”
“It’s been a beautiful outpouring of humanity from people,” continues Parker, “really to the point now where I’m trying to figure out how to create an opportunity for everybody who wants to serve! The ‘recruiting’ took about 15 minutes, and in a matter of about an hour, I had 100 times the number of people that I could possibly use today!”
It’s unusual – but welcome! – problem to have. “Typically in the world of volunteerism, you have to go shake the bushes and really recruit people to come help,” says Parker. “I think it’s a combination of things. People who typically volunteer for schools or in other organizations are just sitting at home. Entertainment has shut down, so people aren’t as busy. And people are so desperate for an end to this pandemic and have felt so helpless that there’s nothing that they can do short of wearing a mask and staying at home. I think people really see this as a tangible way that they can personally make a difference.”
At present, the Forsyth County Clinic is the only large-scale weekday Novant Clinic in the state, but they are planning to stand up a Monday through Friday clinic soon in the Charlotte area, similar to the one in Winston-Salem. “We have a clinic, but it’s small, too small really for volunteers to help,” says Parker. “Once we move into our new space, we’ll have a similar model, and there will be opportunities for people.”
So how can you help? It turns out the answer is complicated. While there is definitely a need for volunteers, constantly fluctuating vaccine allotment and demand that outweighs supply means there isn’t necessarily a way to utilize more volunteers right now.
“The thing about a successful volunteer opportunity is you’ve got to have the right number of volunteers,” explains Parker. “Right now, I have a long list of groups and individuals who want to help. At this moment, I have more than I need. But,” continues Parker, “We’re going to be doing this for a while. The more vaccines we get, the more helpers we’re going to need.”
Open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm Monday through Friday, a clinic like the one in Forsyth County – and the one soon to open in Charlotte – requires about 10 volunteers per four-hour shift (or 30 volunteers per day) to work efficiently. The bottom line? Although Parker has paused volunteer recruitment for now, there will be spots available in the future.
“Even if the spots are full today, we’re going to need help,” says Parker. “We don’t know how long it’s going to take to vaccinate everybody in North Carolina. At the rate we’re currently going, it may take us the rest of the year. If we’re doing this every Saturday for the rest of the year and every Monday through Friday from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, the people who are currently helping will burn out, and every new clinic that we stand u,p we’re going to need additional people.”
If you are interested in volunteering at a vaccine clinic, make sure to follow Novant Health’s website and social media to stay up to date on current volunteer needs. Remember that vaccine clinics are often planned and executed quickly, so when a need for volunteers arises, those volunteers are often needed immediately. Also, remember that vaccine clinics aren’t the only area of need. “We have volunteer programs in all our hospitals, so anybody can sign up to be a volunteer,” reminds Parker, “and if they do that, then they would be in the loop regarding opportunities at the vaccine clinic, plus other ways that volunteers could serve.”
Parker remains grateful for all the support the community has shown Novant throughout the pandemic. “Everyone who has volunteered has been blown away,” concludes Parker. “It’s been a beautiful display of humanity, altruism, and kindness.