Spring, it is often said, is the season of hope and new beginnings.
Perhaps then it was fitting that on Saturday, the first day of spring, 450 Newarkers received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during a community vaccination clinic, providing a light at the end of the tunnel after more than a year of uncertainty and isolation.
“It’s a relief,” said George Timko, as he and his wife received their vaccinations at the Tarbiyah School on Old Baltimore Pike. “I’m glad we’re at the point we can get these vaccines.”
Staffed by volunteers from the Delaware National Guard and the Delaware Medical Reserve Corps, Saturday’s event at the Tarbiyah School was one of several community-based vaccine clinics held in the Newark area over the past couple weeks. Previous events included ones at Newark Senior Center, Pilgrim Baptist Church and Holy Angels Church.
While the large, state-organized vaccination events at Dover International Speedway and elsewhere – which can administer thousands of shots in a single weekend – get most of the attention, the community-based sites play an important role as well, especially for harder-to-reach populations, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long said.
“It’s where people trust one another,” Hall-Long said, explaining some people may be more eager to get vaccinated when a faith leader or community group they know and trust is involved.
Community-based sites are also more convenient, she said.
“When people are in their own community, sometimes they can walk to the site,” she said.
A registered nurse who teaches public health courses at the University of Delaware, Hall-Long was among the health professionals volunteering to administer shots Saturday, giving some attendees the only-in-Delaware experience of being vaccinated by the lieutenant governor.
“It’s really important when we’re in the midst of a pandemic, everyone’s hands are needed on deck,” said Hall-Long, who has administered hundreds of shots since December.
The community group hosting the vaccine clinic is responsible for recruiting people to be vaccinated, subject to the state’s eligibility rules.
The Tarbiyah School and the adjacent Masjid Isa Ibn-e-Maryam mosque spread the word to their members and families, as well as to residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. A link to sign up spread quickly online as well, and the crowd represented a wide cross-section of New Castle County.
More than 1,500 people signed up to be vaccinated there, according to Naveed Baqir, who helped coordinate the event. Originally planning for 300 vaccinations, the school was able to increase it to 450.
It plans to vaccinate another 500 people from the waiting list next weekend and has offered to continue hosting vaccine clinics as often as the state can accommodate.
“We’re very involved in the community at large,” said Dr. Saleem Khan, president of the First State Islamic Foundation, which runs the school and the mosque. “Anytime there’s a need, we start working with the state authorities.”
The Tarbiyah School is no stranger to community service during the pandemic. After the state closed schools in March 2020, volunteers from Tarbiyah mobilized to design a meal delivery service to ensure that local kids all over northern Delaware don’t go hungry. In the last year, the school has delivered more than two million meals and plans to continue the program through at least September.
“A school cannot exist in isolation. A school is like a living organization and representation of the community that it is in,” Principal Dr. Amna Latif said. “We are showing our future generations how to care for neighbors and be a part of the solution whenever there is a problem.”
The vaccination clinics are part of that work, she said.
“As we see light at the end of the tunnel with regards to the vaccines, we open up our doors to get everyone who wants a vaccine, get vaccinated,” she said. “We will continue to provide help and support to our neighbors, children, and families in need in whatever way we can. We thank our elected officials for their support of our work and we thank our neighbors and communities for their trust in us.”
Baqir said it’s important for the school and mosque to be involved in the vaccination effort.
“It creates that trust and overcomes any fears people might have,” he said. “I can’t imagine members of our community would have gotten vaccinated in these numbers.”
Salena Akter, whose daughter attends Tarbiyah, heard about the vaccination event through the school. She and her mother, Nurn Nahar, both came to get their shot.
“I was a little skeptical, but after the shot, I feel great,” Akter said, adding she is looking forward to the freedom that will come once they are fully vaccinated in five weeks. “As a family, we can have more get-togethers. It will be good to be together more without masks.”