CAMDEN, NJ – On Sunday, bouncy houses, free hot food and doses of the Pfizer vaccine were available in Farnham Park.
The event organized by Pastor Amir Khan of New Beginnings, a local church, was part of the state’s Grateful for the Vaccine program, which is targeting communities with low vaccination rates through faith-based groups.
“I’m so grateful,” said Lavonia Abavana, who got vaccinated alongside her son King Sebastian Ellison, who recently turned 12, making him eligible for a dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Sunday’s vaccine drive was one of 14 block-party-style events that happened statewide as part of the Grateful for the Vaccine program.
“Our diverse group of faith leaders are trusted members of the community, and trust is critical in winning our fight against COVID-19,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.
“For the last several months, our houses of worship have generously turned their sanctuaries and community rooms into vaccination centers for their congregants,” he said. “We are building on these efforts and making the vaccination process easy and accessible for our underserved communities.”
Khan’s event was focused more on fun than faith. In addition to bouncy houses and free hot meals, courtesy of Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Diner, members of the New Jersey State Police’s Mounted Horse Unit were present so people could interact with officers and the animals.
“We had a little over 30 actual vaccinations,” Khan said. “A lot more showed up. They want to come back next time.”
He’ll be organizing another vaccination event on June 12, where people can get their first or second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Initially, he was a little disappointed with the turnout, but he said a conversation with vaccine technicians from ACME changed his mind.
“They were saying, ‘No. This is great.’ This is three times what they normally do at events,” Khan said.
He also stressed that bringing vaccination events to the community is an important part of bringing up vaccination rates in certain communities.
“It was just kind of a convenience thing for me,” said Edmund Abavana, Lavonia’s adult son who was vaccinated at a prior event. “I would have gotten the shot sooner, but it was kind of hard for me to go where I needed to get the shot until I recently got a car.”
His mother agreed.
“I was calling my pharmacy, and the pharmacy agency wanted me to go somewhere far, which was inconvenient,” Lavonia said. “When this site came up through the church, which the church made convenient, it was a win-win situation.”
She added that there is hesitation toward the vaccine in Camden, but that going to an event put on by a church made her feel more secure given that she has, “a great relationship with Jesus.”
But Lavonia said Edmund getting vaccinated beforehand was also a big part of her feeling comfortable with getting the shot.
“I just told her that I got that the shot, and she was like, ‘Well if you’re okay, then I guess we can go get the shot.’ I highly recommended it,” Edmund said.