Pastor Mark Meeks of City Church of Sacramento is strategically targeting ethnic groups in Oak Park and has volunteered his church as a vaccination site. Vaccinations started at City Church last Friday and Pastor Meeks is prayerful they will continue on a weekly basis.

The vaccinations are being given through a partnership with UC Davis. The idea stemmed from a discussion between Pastor Meeks and his mentor, Rev. Glenn Shields, senior pastor of Stockton’s Progressive Community Church. Rev. Shields spoke of using his church as a vaccination site and Pastor Meeks inquired about how Rev. Shields was able to make that happen.

“That was a Saturday. Then on Sunday, I was watching the news in the afternoon, just seeing how the virus is just devastating the Black and brown community and based on those two things, I texted Jay Schenirer, our council member for District 5. I said, ‘Jay, what’s being done to reach the community and he said ‘nothing to my knowledge,’ but let me make a call and I’ll get back to you.”

The next day, Meeks says, Schenerir connected him with the vaccination administrator at UC Davis. By that Friday, UC Davis showed up with a team of 20-30 experts to make it happen. 

African American vaccination numbers have been pretty low. The average is around 3 percent statewide and 4 percent in Sacramento County.

Pastor Meeks said judging from the data, low income communities such as Oak Park are “the absolute ground zero”   of the COVID cases. 

Sacramento County officials have identified 11 zip codes as priority locations to focus their vaccine efforts. Oak Park’s 95820 is among the zip codes. 

City Church vaccinations are currently open to residents in the 95817 and 95820 zip codes who are 65 years of age or older. Among those getting vaccinated on the first day was Veronica Parker.

“I decided to get vaccinated because I believe in the science; I care for my community, I care for my family and it’s not so much that I’m trying to protect myself, but I want to protect others to get us back to work,” Ms. Parker said.

Schenirer’s Chief of Staff Allison Joe attended the kickoff clinic.

“We’re looking forward to making sure that our communities are served, particularly our communities of color and our underserved communities who are most impacted by COVID and we want to make sure that anyone who has questions can get their questions answered and they have places to go when they’re ready for their vaccine,” Ms. Joe said. 

City Church started out by vaccinating 100 area seniors. Pastor Meeks calls the number “small, but important.”

“We’re starting  modestly, just to make sure we do what we’re supposed to do,”  he said.  

It’s also a test of their preparedness for when more supply comes and when eligibility opens up to more people.

“The hope is that it will go up, not linearly, but exponentially. I’m thinking in my mind the following Friday, 200; the following Friday after that, 400; after that 800. The idea is to, as quickly and efficiently as possibly, provide the opportunity for folks who want to be vaccinated, to be vaccinated.”

Pastor Meeks says his approach is to go, like the Bible says and “reach the least of those.” He’s visited community-based organizations like Wellsprings and the Fruitridge Collaborative “that are boots on the ground,” sharing information on how to get the vaccine through his church. He’s “reached out to all the pastors that he knows” and hopes to see larger Oak Park Church, St. Paul, also become a vaccination location, as mentioned months ago by County health officials, when the church was named a testing site.

St. Paul will partner with UC Davis to operate a vaccination clinic from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  beginning March 31, says Administrative Assistant Lamont Harris.

“We need as many clinics as possible,” Pastor Meeks said.

The City Church team is also simplifying the registration process many are finding problematic.

“Basically, it’s you call a number, we’ll take your information, we give you a time. We basically are the computer for whoever calls, because the community we’re trying to reach, a lot of folks their computer access is through a flip phone, or it doesn’t exist,” Pastor Meeks shared.

“I’m computer savvy and it was still complicated to me,” he added. “It’s ridiculous, but I get it. I see why they have to do that, but we can hold the person’s hand and essentially be the buddy, the aunt, the uncle, the guardian or whatever and be in a nurturing position to facilitate the  whole system.”

Pastor Meeks wants to see more African American clergy joining him in stressing the importance of the vaccine.

“It used to be when the African American church was the hub of everything associated with life, from the temporal to the spiritual. If you needed a job if you went to the church. If you  needed a vaccination, you went to the church. if you needed salvation, you went to the church.”

It would also make a difference, he says, if other prominent local Black leaders joined the effort, publicly showing people that they’ve been vaccinated. He’s looking for others to step up and say, ‘I am willing to receive the vaccine and to show by example the importance of this” as he has done.

“I will literally and figuratively die on that hill if that’s what it takes,” he shared. “The option to do nothing is not a good choice.”

Vaccinations at City Church, located at 3860 4th Avenue, are by appointment only. To register, call (916) 349-6980.

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer