By Jessica Brodie
ROCK HILL—One United Methodist church in South Carolina is stepping up to meet a need, helping seniors and others get registered for their COVID-19 vaccine. And now, other churches are doing the same.
Sarah Crockford, director of ministries at St. John’s UMC in Rock Hill, said when the COVID vaccine was initially released this winter, she and others on staff began helping their parents and other eligible church members get signed up.
“But they were really struggling with the technical piece of it, which at first was a multistep process,” Crockford said.
People needed computer access and an email, and they had to register through a secure platform on the Centers for Disease Control website, wait 24 hours, receive a confirmation email, then go back to the website and schedule their appointment. For a lot of older adults, this was a difficult process—some didn’t have a computer or didn’t understand how to navigate all the steps, particularly the two-factor authentication.
“The very people who need the vaccine the most couldn’t get to it,” Crockford said. “If you use a computer every day, you are used to it and you don’t realize how much of a problem it is, but if you don’t, it’s not easy.”
She and others on staff at St. John’s reached out to city officials to see whether they could not only help their own church members but the community.
And with that, the St. John’s Vaccination Registration Clinic started.
On Tuesday and Thursdays from 1-5 p.m., as well as during other times, the church hosts an open house where people can come in, sit down with volunteers and staff, and get assistance registering for their vaccine. Some of the volunteers are from St. John’s, but many city, healthcare and business leaders also volunteer at the church. In some cases, they help people get email addresses so they can make their appointments, or they assist in locating vaccination locations and registering.
In the beginning, the process was a lot more complex, and phone appointments were not offered. Now people have more options, but the registration help is still very much needed.
“By the time people get to us they are frustrated and overwhelmed and don’t know what to do, or they’re confused,” Crockford said. “We saw it as what better way to love your neighbor? It’s an issue of equity and justice all wrapped into one.
“These are underserved populations, and there’s a vaccine they really need, and they can’t access it because of technology and internet access.”
Kandy Hamilton, a St. John’s member, said she truly loves volunteering at the registration clinic.
“I really think it’s important everybody gets the vaccine, but for some people, it’s been hard, between not easy access or not having a computer,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said she’s witnessed more than one person leave the church with tears of joys streaming down their cheeks in appreciation.
“They just say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you!’” Hamilton said. “They are in tears and so, so grateful.
“Anytime we can help somebody, I think we should do that.”
St. John’s has also started training other churches in various denominations to do similar registration clinics in their communities, such as York. They plan to offer this help as long as there’s a need.
“We really have enjoyed it—it’s the best thing we do all week,” Crockford said. “People are excited and so relieved, because this really is so hard.”
The Rev. David Surrett, St. John’s senior pastor, said he is proud of his church and its members for stepping up to help in this way.
“I am very excited for St. John’s to be engaged in this important outreach to York County,” he said. “We are pleased to cooperate with the Mayor of Rock Hill’s office in this endeavor. We appreciate their assistance.”