In February, The Naperville Senior Task Force and the Naperville & Lisle Townships TRIAD organization teamed up to start a senior vaccination program called “Vaccination Buddies.”
The two groups started the program to help seniors navigate technology to obtain a vaccine appointment. At the time, they were looking for volunteers who could “buddy up” with a senior to do that.
How “Vaccination Buddies” Has Grown
Now the program has 40 volunteers and has been able to successfully help seniors who need it.
“What was happening before was a senior would call, we’d take their name and it would take us a week to get an appointment for them. Now I think our turnaround time is about a couple of hours, which is pretty fantastic. Because vaccine availability is increasing we’re able to find them something pretty quickly and conveniently,” said Jackie Pufundt, who is on Vaccination Buddies’ leadership team. “Some of these folks either haven’t left their house in so long because they’ve been anxious and scared, they don’t drive far because of their age or disability. So us being able to find something within a mile or two from their home is huge.”
A Rewarding Experience
The volunteer-run program has also been able to partner with Metro Infectious Disease Consultant and the DuPage County Health Department, which has helped them gain access to more vaccines.
Kanela Afshari, who is one of the volunteers, is in charge of finding appointments when someone calls which “entails working sometimes – looking for them anywhere from as late as midnight to starting early in the morning at 5:30 a.m.” She said they’ve been able to secure at least 3,000 appointments since starting the program in February.
“It is the best feeling in the world to help someone. I have had instances where I have scheduled a senior who has been searching for an appointment for weeks and they will cry on the phone because they’re so excited to be able to get an appointment,” said Afshari. “Many people just thank you because you are giving them a little piece of their life back. I had a senior I scheduled this week. One of her appointments is actually on her 89th birthday and she said that is the best present she has ever gotten. So it is amazing the reaction.”
Naperville residents Eunetta and Norman Bacon were looking for appointments close by and wanted to go together. Vaccination Buddies was able to find them both appointments at a Walgreens near their home and 15 minutes apart.
“I’d love to thank them, I think it was a wonderful service and so helpful to us,” said Eunetta. “For them to be volunteers and take their time to help is wonderful,” said Norman.
Some volunteers in the program also drive people to their appointments.
Helping Other Groups
With more seniors getting vaccinated since February, the program has expanded to help other groups as well. Now, they are helping people who are 55 and older and those in 1B and 1B Plus who may have struggles with electronic registration, those with disabilities, and people in underserved communities in suburbs like Aurora and Elgin.
Also in the plans is to help those who are homebound. They are looking to partner with Oswald’s, who just received their first shipment of vaccines, and hope to also partner with the DuPage County Health Department for this service in the next couple of weeks.
“Rewarding doesn’t even begin to describe what’s been going on. It’s been a challenging 13 months for all of us,” said Pufundt. “So being able to see some light at the end of the tunnel and being a part of that – I think so many of us have just felt so helpless over the last 13 months and now to know that we’re helping bring this all to an end hopefully, is a feeling I’ve never experienced.”
Those looking for help can call the Vaccination Buddies hotline at 630-343-9044 to leave a voicemail or email firstname.lastname@example.org if access to internet is available.
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.