CAMDEN, NJ — Ana Gonzalez, 65, says her Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings were noticeably quiet in 2020. The Camden resident and Puerto Rico native’s family - from other parts of the city and Philadelphia - had to stay away due to COVID-19.

“Usually I’d be in the kitchen making rice, potato salad, turkey, macaroni. We spoke on FaceTime and over the phone but that was it. I’m not upset though. I miss them but God has protected my family. Not everyone has been so lucky,” Gonzalez told TAPinto Camden on Thursday at First Nazarene Baptist Church. “Now it’s about moving forward.”

That process began for Gonzalez and 29 other seniors Thursday morning, during a hyper-local effort to immunize residents in a city with over 7,400 cases of the deadly virus.

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People 60 and over in the city account for 101 of the 127 coronavirus deaths as of Wednesday, as well as 782 of the 865 deaths countywide since last March. This week, 40 seniors will be vaccinated at the church - numbers that officials say would be higher if federal dose deliveries increased.

Applause broke out as Gonzalez - the first to get the Moderna shot - headed to the designated observation area.

“No me dolio.” (“It didn’t hurt)," she remarked immediately after her shot was administered by Dr. Stephanie Santoro, Chief Medical Officer for Project H.O.P.E.

She was joined by Delois Gordon, 72, of Camden, a chair away.

Gonzalez, who will get her second dose in 28 days, says she like other residents was hesitant about getting the shot at first.

“I then learned more about the process, about the background. Then told my family I would be coming here today. [Experts] say there may be some symptoms, so that has me a little worried but I hear it’s normal,” she said.

The first seniors to get vaccinated this week were selected through collaborative efforts with the Ferry Manor and Parker Hall senior housing apartments.

“This is a crucial time in history, this pandemic has shaken the nation and now we have opportunity to bring vaccinations right into the community,” said Rev. Dyheim Watson of First Nazarene Baptist Church, which has been in Camden for 103 years.

“Churches really are the social context where we come together,” said Cooper’s Ferry Partnership board member and former Camden mayor Dana Redd. “Our clergy is also very concerned about our vulnerable population receiving the vaccines and having access to it. They wanted to serve to validate…to say it is safe to take. I’ve taken the vaccine and I encourage you to take the vaccine as well.”

Kris Kolluri, President and CEO of Cooper's Ferry Partnership, said it was also crucial to reach out to populations who may not have internet or a computer readily available.

Others that made the church vaccine site possible: CAMCare, Camden County and city officials. South Jersey Transportation Authority also provided transport for residents to arrive on-site.

“Seniors are the fabric of our community and it's oftentimes hard for them to get where they need to [in order] to get these vaccinations,” said Councilman Victor Carstarphen.

“The county is looking to open up a vaccination center at the Kroc Center in the next coming weeks,” shared County Commissioner Jon Young. “We want to make sure that the African American and Latino community are able to get vaccinated and make sure that they can move forward. It's a trustworthy process. It works. And we're just making sure that our community is still here tomorrow.”

If you or a loved-one would like to inquire about how to access the vaccine site visit www.camcare.net or projecthopecamden.org. Camden County’s 24-hour public coronavirus hotline is available at 1-800-222-1222.

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