Free food, music help defy Oregon City vaccine expectations
Since people with mental health and addiction issues have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the community, Clackamas County Public Health contacted the National Alliance on Mental Illness to participate in the July 15 clinic in Oregon City.
County officials hooked up Michele Veenker, executive director of NAMI-Clackamas, with Providence Health's weekly COVID vaccine clinic every Thursday at the Willamette Falls Community Center on 15th Street, and the success of the subsequent partnership defied expectatons.
"We knew we needed to get others involved, so we contacted other peer organizations who served these populations to have resource tables and help spread the word," Veenker said.
NAMI's event featured an art show by people who live with mental health issues. A children's art corner allowed parents to get a vaccine and do the wait period without their kiddos asking when they could leave, Veenker said.
After NAMI clients got vaccinated, they were able to go outside and get free food from the Bite on Belmont food truck that provided tacos, burritos and new burrito bowls.
A 14-year-old client, named Jose, got his second shot. He said, "I want to be able to do things again so I wanted to get vaccinated, and it didn't hurt at all."
"It was a good experience because they talked you through it," said Yurisney Guzman Vasquez told KOIN 6 News of receiving the vaccine. "Since I don't really like getting shots, they helped me calm down. They talk to you and they asked about what I'm doing this summer and right away it happened and you don't even feel it."
During the entire event, a musical group donated their time and played a mixture of music for everyone's enjoyment. Rae Gordon, recently inducted into the Cascade Blues Association's Hall of Fame, sang vocals, and was joined with four other award-winning musicians.
"Musicians have always known that their music offers people who are suffering a chance to heal," Gordon said. "The connections made with others in the audience and the musicians help those in need leave their troubles behind, even for a day. Sometimes a day is all that is needed to turn somebody around."
Gordon recently helped write a song to people who have had thoughts of suicide, especially during these hard times. She's donating it to NAMI-Clackamas to help them in their programs and outreach, especially to those with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Gordon got acquainted with this grassroots organization when she took their family-to-family class. She also was passionate about the song she wrote and bringing it to life because she personally struggled as a teen with suicidal thoughts and knows how important outreach and hope is, and how one more day can make all the difference.
Northwest Family Services, Folktime, Oxford Houses, Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon and Oregon Family Support Network also provided resources and helped get the word out. Oregon Health Authority helped fund the event, provided staff and sent out notice of the event to several thousand people.
Felicia C., a Providence client who got her first shot at the event, said, "It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would; I'm glad I finally got it."
According to Veenker, and based on past events, Providence expected a smaller number people to show up. They brought vaccines for 50 people, which seemed like more than what would be needed. They had to send a nurse to get more, so 62 people got vaccinated. They also ran out of food for 50, along with 65 "I Got Vaccinated" T-shirts.
NAMI Clackamas is partnering with NAMI Multnomah to host a Minority Mental Health Month Panel from 1-2:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 28. They will have providers and people who live with mental health issues and are identified as part of a minority community. It will be moderated by Chris Bouneff, NAMI Oregon executive director.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.