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The Army vaccinates: Meriden, CT

During the early days of the pandemic, the Salvation Army’s Meriden Corps Community Center worked with the Meriden health department to find residents who were afraid to leave their homes. They set up a food delivery service to assist these people, many of whom were elderly and at risk for catching COVID-19.

Almost a year later, the health department again reached out to the corps and other state non-profits for help. Department officials wanted respected organizations such as The Salvation Army to provide information to lower income communities on how to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and where they could do so.

“We called those past delivery clients, and it turned out that the same people with difficulty accessing resources during the pandemic also had difficulty accessing the vaccine,” says Lieutenant Kate Borrero, corps officer. “We arranged for them to get information, and even for the health department to give them the vaccine right in their home.”

This was the start of the corps’ ministry to educate and encourage the community to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The hope was that by putting the correct, science-based information into people’s minds, it would lead to more shots in their arms.

 

Inviting and educating

“From talking to people in our soup kitchen, we learned that there were two kinds of personal views on the vaccine,” says Lieutenant Borrero. “The first group were people completely on board with the vaccine and who had gotten it as soon as they could. The second group was people who were apprehensive because a friend had told them something negative about the vaccine or something they read on the internet.”

That second group had to be reached. The Meriden Corps leaders educated their staff with information from the CDC, which included responses to common vaccine myths, and a list of ingredients found in the COVID-19 shot.

“We originally tried going door–to–door,” says Borrero. “When we approached people, we didn’t ask if they were vaccinated. Instead, we asked if they had any questions about the vaccine itself.” This approach worked for some, but others were angry and felt that presenting this information to them was invading their space; they refused to be convinced or even informed.

“From seeing this, we decided to shift our plans and invite them into our space.”

Corps personnel set up a table at a weekly farmers’ market that is frequented by the community and invited visitors to join discussion groups through games, trivia, and prizes.

“One of the games we play is to ask a contestant to name just one ingredient in the vaccine to win a prize. They are surprised to learn that some of the vaccine’s ingredients can be found in their home right now, such as salt water and sugar. When they hear this, it opens the conversation more.”

Borrero says that the conversational aspect is important, as is having respect for a person’s feelings or perspective, even though they may be based on fears or misinformation.

“Most people do want to be educated and try do their research, but they don’t have access to concrete truths, and instead do deep dives into random social media posts,” says Borrero.

 

A hundred years in the making

Borrero says that the success of their information ministry goes back farther than 2020; all the way back to 1885, when The Salvation Army arrived in Meriden.

“We have been here for so long that the community knows they can trust us and come to us for what they need. Our presence adds a different type of credibility that maybe a government agency would not have.”

“I’m grateful to those people who have served in Meriden over the last 100–plus years and shown God’s love to the community. They deserve credit for this successful ministry too.”

by Hugo Bravo


Click here to download the Meriden, Conn., Corps information graphic on the COVID-19 vaccine.