New York ministry experiences ‘loaves and fishes’ moment with vaccine distribution

An initial plan to host COVID-19 vaccinations for 10 staff, volunteers and clients at Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries resulted in more than 40 people receiving their shots at the New York City ministry. For one organizer, it affirmed the power of partnerships in meeting local needs.

“That was a team effort in realizing we had a chance to do something that was just and responded to a big need that our community was experiencing,” said Lesley-Ann Hix Tommey, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving as ministry facilitator for Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries.

Lesley-Ann Hix Tommey

“It just kind of grew slowly, and it was because of that careful intention of our team always asking, ‘How do we make this more just and accessible to the folks who need it the most?’”

And the fact that so many more were vaccinated than originally planned evoked a parallel to the biblical story of Jesus feeding multitudes with only a few pieces of bread and fish, she said. “As soon as you start connecting to community, loaves and fishes start happening all the time.”

It all began during a February Zoom call about a nutrition workshop with partner Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Health Center in Hell’s Kitchen. Hix Tommey asked about the clinic’s vaccine distribution process and an offer was extended to bring 10 doses to the ministry.

With three of those shots going to staff, the search was on to find seven others. “And just in talking that through we began to wonder how many more people on top of that we could add because we knew the need was great,” Hix Tommey recalled.

So, the health center was asked if more doses could be provided. “We pressed them on that, and we settled on 40.”

Ministry volunteers serve food pantry clients at Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries.

Ministry staff scoured its homelessness program participants and the users of its clothes closet and food pantry.

“We had plenty of people who had underlying health conditions or who were 65 or older, or both. At the time, only people in those categories or teachers and first responders were eligible,” she said.

Members of Metro Baptist Church also were queried.

The ministry went an extra mile by handling the online vaccination registration process for clients, which can be a major obstacle for people without computer know-how or access. At that time in the city, “vaccine access was limited to those who could figure out the system online and who were lucky enough to get on at the right time.”

The ministry’s food pantry was selected as the site to distribute the two-dose vaccines, the first of which was held during operating hours March 6, Hix Tommey explained. “That way if someone didn’t show up for their appointment, we could just pull somebody out of the line — which we did not need to do because everybody showed up.”

Nor did anyone miss their second-dose appointments on April 3, which Hix Tommey described as “amazing.” 

The waiting area after vaccination

“For people in vulnerable populations and those dealing with trauma, it’s hard for them to make commitments one week for something the following week, let alone a month later. But these people were so desperate to get vaccinated that they showed up and they were early. And as a result, no doses had to be thrown out.”

Tondalayo Greene, alumni coordinator of Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries’ Living Well program, used her appointment to convince those distrustful of the COVID-19 vaccine, just has she had been.

“I was skeptical about it before,” she said. “I’m Black and there was just a lot of doubt in my mind about it.”

But after registering for the shots through the ministry, Green convinced her mother and sister to join her. She also shot video of herself receiving the shots and shared the experience through social media to convince others to follow suit.

“I felt comfortable because (Rauschenbusch) is a safe place,” she reasoned. “Getting the shots there was comfortable and comforting.”

Hix Tommey said the number of emails and notes thanking the ministry for arranging the vaccinations has been overwhelming. “I feel very proud we were able to put all this together with our network of partnerships. It really took a team that came into play to make it happen.”

The vaccinations also were a help to Hix Tommey and her staff. “There was this worry we were carrying around. It was weighing on us everywhere we went. It wasn’t so much a worry about getting sick, but about the power the virus has over everything. Now it feels like that worry is gone.”


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