Posted on May 24, 2021
Touched by an Angel
Back in the cold winter months of 2021, a new day was just dawning in the fight against COVID, with the advent of the long-awaited COVID vaccines. But as we all know, it quickly became a huge exercise in frustration to get those elusive vaccine appointments. Enter the Vaccine Angels.
The Vaccine Angels are a Somerset County-based group that helps obtain vaccine appointments for individuals who are having difficulty finding an appointment slot. Stacey Friedlander, a member of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater and the founder of the group, quickly realized how complex and frustrating it was for many people, especially the elderly and other vulnerable groups, to book appointments for their vaccines. She began communicating and problem-solving with a group of friends, to share information, techniques and strategies so they could help others. As their efforts grew, she started a Google form to track their progress and keep everything shareable.
Initially, the Angels focused their efforts on helping congregants at their houses of worship, with a focus on the elderly. For those who can’t drive, Stacey even offers her minivan, aka the Mitzvah Mobile, to take seniors to their vaccine appointments. As word spread, the number of volunteers grew to more than 30, and at the time of this writing, the Vaccine Angels had succeeded in obtaining 2,856 vaccinations for people (both first and second immunizations).
The Angels has now extended its reach beyond Somerset County to all of New Jersey (but remains limited to New Jersey residents), and it has also moved into advocacy work at both the county and state level. Members have undergone state-provided training, and done outreach in churches, synagogues, mosques, and even barbershops and hair salons – all places where people go for trusted advice. The group also hands out flyers in demographic areas that are traditionally underserved, and does presentations on the importance of getting vaccinated, using PowerPoint and slide shows provided by the state of New Jersey. As with other vaccines, the group has had to combat misconceptions and misinformation about vaccines, and distrust of the medical establishment among some groups.
When Stacey first began working with seniors in her own congregation, she also found some people were hesitant for a different reason: they believed others should get a vaccine before them. “Don’t throw away your shots,” she begged them. She found herself persuading such individuals that they should not bypass an opportunity to be vaccinated, because “ultimately we are all helping one another by getting the vaccine.” On a different front, the Vaccine Angels sometimes have to explain to callers that theirs is not a concierge service – it’s not about picking which vaccine you want to have. Instead, the key is to protect yourself and those around you by being open to whichever vaccine is available to you. “We prioritize health above all else,” Stacey says. As the pandemic environment changes, the group continues to evolve its mission, but it maintains its original focus on the oldest and most vulnerable populations, those who have difficulty scheduling appointments on their own.
With the chaos, sadness and upheaval wrought by this pandemic year-plus, it’s not surprising to find that many people have had powerful reactions to the Vaccine Angels’ help. Many of the Vaccine Angels’ clients tell their benefactors they had prayed for help, and feel their faith in God has been restored.
“We have seniors who haven’t seen their families in a year – we’re giving them their freedom back.” Stacey truly believes the Vaccine Angels are saving lives by helping their community get vaccinated. “In Judaism, saving a life is the biggest mitzvah of all,” she reflects. Gov. Murphy, who recently retweeted a shout-out to the Vaccine Angels (see right for some familiar TBE faces), clearly agrees. We thank you, Vaccine Angels, for all your many mitzvot!
For more information on the Vaccine Angels or to volunteer, email Stacey Friedlander at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the May-June 2021 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.