HELENA — Long before the first rays of sunlight fell upon the Scratch Gravel Hills Wednesday morning, more than a dozen volunteers were hard at work to ensure the COVID-19 vaccination clinic for health care workers at the fairgrounds ran smoothly.
Capital High Sophomore and Troop #214 Boy Scout Zach Heller was directing traffic while bundled in winter gear for the freezing temperatures.
Heller got to the fairgrounds shortly after 6:00 a.m. and was out helping for a couple hours when traffic volunteers are needed most before heading to school that morning. Getting up early and standing in the cold doesn’t bother him though because he knows that he’s helping his community.
“It just feels good personally to know that I’m helping. Even a 16-year-old in the middle of Montana is still playing a part in the whole scheme of things,” said Heller.
Traffic control may not seem like that important of a job, certainly not the most glamorous, but it plays a big role in reducing the time people have to wait in line to get vaccinated and help resolve any initial issue.
Lewis and Clark Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Brett Lloyd says not only are the volunteers greatly appreciated, frankly they’re needed in order to meet the needs of the community.
“In order for us especially in the dark to keep things running smoothly and efficiently, let people get in the building so medical folks can take care of them, we need volunteers to keep this traffic flow going to avoid accidents and ensure people know where to go,” said Lloyd. “It’s not an overstatement to say I couldn’t do it without them.”
Without the volunteers Lloyd would need to rely on law enforcement and other first responders, which he’d rather not do.
“I don’t want to pull law enforcement off the streets to come do this kind of work because we need them out there on the streets,” said Lloyd. “Having volunteers that are willing to get up early and come down here and work in the cold, help us manage traffic and keep things running smoothly is absolutely crucial to this operation.”
Inside the fairgrounds exhibit hall nurses and pharmacists were delivering vaccine doses like a well oiled machine. Vehicles flowed in, got their shots and then waited in the west parking area to make sure there were not potential serious reactions.
PureView Health Center and St. Peter’s Health staff have been averaging around one vaccination a minute, a fast pace with most of it spent on their feet.
Volunteer and United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area Board Member Chris Hunter helped provide drinks and snacks to keep people fueled for the work.
Hunter also didn’t take issue with getting up early, noting he’s usually up at that time anyway.
“This just seemed like the right thing to do,” said Hunter. “It’s amazing, the organization here is just incredible.”
Hunter says it's always amazing to see people step up in the community to help fill a need.
Volunteer efforts for the vaccination clinic were organized by the Elkhorn COAD. Throughout the pandemic they’ve coordinated many volunteer efforts to meet the needs of the community such as personal protective equipment distribution.
Elkhorn COAD Chairman Joe Wojton said the response has been great when they’ve needed volunteers.
“Whenever the COAD has been called for volunteers, whether that’s meal distribution, vaccination or any other project, we’ve always got a great outpouring of support,” said Wojton. “It’s wonderful to see because they realize they're doing good for the community and they want to serve and help.”
Lewis and Clark County is wrapping up their vaccination clinic for health care workers this week and plan on continuing to use the site for further vaccination efforts in the coming months. Those continued efforts will mean the need for more volunteers. People interested in volunteering can find more information here.
There’s no pay and those that volunteer rarely want credit, in fact more seem to be camera shy that not. Volunteering will never be the most glamorous job. They’ll get the occasional thank you, but that isn’t what’s important to the volunteers helping at the fairgrounds. For them helping their community make it through one of the most challenging times in recent history is all the matters. Plus if they’ve gotten to see some good sun rises.