Column: Need a shot in the arm? Meet these California COVID-19 vaccine bookers
Do you use a smartphone or a computer? Do you have patience and endurance? Can you carve out some time to keep checking websites throughout the day?
Then you have what it takes to help edge us toward the finish line of the pandemic by hunting down appointments for COVID-19 vaccines.
People all over Southern California are volunteering to find appointments for others — reaching out to older or unwell or technologically challenged neighbors, putting up fliers offering their aid, posting their willingness to help strangers on Facebook and Nextdoor.
Gabe Silk, 18, of Palos Verdes Estates is closing out his senior year at Palos Verdes High School. But in between classes and after school each day and into the night and on weekends, he surfs the web looking for available appointments — a service he first performed for grandparents in Florida he hasn’t been able to see for more than a year.
He recently found an appointment for a caterer eager to work events again. He’s found them for neighbors — including Lynn McLeod, who wrote to tell me about his work and about the effort Silk’s mother, Meredith, has put in to spread the word to those who might need the help. Since vaccines first became available, Silk has booked a couple of hundred appointments, he said, about half of them for people he knows, the rest through word of mouth.
On Tuesday night, I watched on Zoom as the mayor of his city presented him with a resolution of appreciation for his service.
“I think it’s good to help out with the community. I think it helps a lot, especially for people that really aren’t as experienced with computers. That way, we’ll get back to normal sooner,” Silk told me. “Anyone can really do it as long as they have time to just keep on checking and don’t get frustrated over not finding spots. A lot of times I won’t find availability. You’ve got to just keep on checking.”
He found his appetite for the hunt, in fact, at the beginning of the pandemic, when he stayed up very late night after night searching the web for wholesalers that still had toilet paper and Clorox wipes and Lysol. He started ordering supplies in bulk and reselling them at close to cost to friends and neighbors, doctors and nurses, and local shops. Nabbing appointments once vaccines became available in December offered a similar thrill of the chase.
“It almost like you’re an addict. It’s the biggest adrenaline rush,” Grace Bowden, 31, told me of snagging vaccine appointments.
Do you know someone in Los Angeles who does great good for others? This columnist is looking to talk to people about how they started helping and what they’ve learned from experience.
Like Silk, she started out finding them for her grandparents and relatives and then offered up her services more widely. So far, she and a small group of friends who helped her create a system for fielding the requests online and share news that their free help was available have found about 300 people in 30 states appointments, she told me. She got so into it that she is responsible for finding about 280 of the appointments herself.
I learned about Bowden in an email from John Harvey Taylor, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, which covers more than five counties. When Bowden first decided to try to help older people get appointments, she didn’t know how to find them. So she reached out to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pomona, which she had once attended. That church spread the word and then the diocese spread it further. “And now honestly it’s like a runaway train,” she told me.
And even though Bowden is a busy person, traveling each week for her consulting job, even though just about a week ago she drove cross-country from L.A. to relocate in New York, she’s eager to help more people and told me to send anyone who needs a hand — as well as any volunteers — her way.
Countless strangers have been generous to her in this pandemic year, she told me. When she arrived in New York, for example, a neighbor welcomed her with homemade sourdough. She’s simply spreading the kindness.
She’s booked a lot of appointments for people who live in South L.A. She’s booked a few for celebrities. She helped a woman who reached out five days after her sister died of the virus, a man in rural Illinois who said he never would have gotten the vaccine if she had not come to his aid.
She’s received many wonderful thank-you notes and gifts — many flowers, a box of pears — for her efforts, not that she’s asked for them. When people ask how to repay her, she tells them to pay it forward and maybe send a photo of themselves getting the shots. She sent me one such photo from Milt Larsen, 89, who founded The Magic Castle, getting his shot at Dodger Stadium, and another of Maria Teresa Alamilla, 83, of South L.A. when she got hers.
I wouldn’t have known about Bowden or Silk if I hadn’t asked all of you last month to tell me about people in our area who do great good for others. About a dozen of the hundreds of heartfelt replies I received focused on vaccine appointments.
When asked to name people they know who do great good for others, readers responded in a big way in hundreds of emails.
LouAnne Cappiello of Manhattan Beach wrote to me about the particularly tough year she’s had. First, her husband got a serious case of COVID-19, putting his life very much at risk. Then, soon after she retired to spend more time with him, she was diagnosed with glioblastoma. Her neighbor Teresa Lin, she told me, volunteered to find them vaccine appointments. “Neither of us would have had the energy to search the website for 4 days,” she wrote me.
I later learned that Lin even made sure to space Cappiello’s appointment some days from her husband’s so that if either had a bad reaction, they wouldn’t both be down at the same time. Lin works with hospitals and got her own vaccine first to test the water for her neighbors.
When I reached her, she told me that as a project manager, she’s always on the computer anyway for work — and she was already on the search for an appointment for her father in Cerritos. She didn’t think twice about helping her neighbors. “That’s the way it should be, isn’t it? That’s normal,” she said.
Emily Talcott, 44, of Fullerton said helping about 30 other people get scheduled for their vaccines has been a bright spot for her in a dark time.
“I wish it was more. I’m willing to do more,” she said when I reached out to her on a tip from Pat Haley, her mom. “It brings me joy. This year has been horrible. I don’t know, it just makes you feel good to be able to do one small thing to make a difference in COVID, right?”
I caught Talcott on her lunch break. She’s a veterinarian who works full time and a mother to 8-year-old twins. It’s not like she has excess free time. Still, she wanted to pitch in, so she started with her parents’ appointments, then appointments for fellow veterinarians, doctors and clinicians she knew who weren’t affiliated with hospitals that would give them the shots, friends of her parents, parents of her friends. Then she made a Facebook flier offering appointment help and asked everyone she knew to share it.
She recently got an appointment for an 88-year-old who is taking care of his bedridden wife, and then found one for the home health aide he employs. When the man first emailed her, she texted him back. He replied with a phone call because he said he didn’t know how to do what she’d just done — text.
“I hung up the phone and I don’t know why but I just burst into tears,” Talcott told me. “These are the people who are trying to navigate the system and they need help.”
She said she has yet to drive someone to a vaccine appointment, but she will if the need is there.
Tina Inglish, 67, of San Clemente recently did just that — driving her neighbor Nicci, who’d recently had eye surgery, 45 minutes each way to get her shot.
I’d learned about Inglish through a friend of hers, Mary Ann Morrison, who wrote me an essay titled “SUPER HERO EXTRAORDINAIRE.” Morrison cataloged Inglish’s many kindnesses to others — including running a food distribution for the needy in her church parking lot, serving on the board of a group that provides assistance to the families of young Marines, and organizing a program that lets people come to a laundromat once a month to wash and dry their clothes and bedding for free. Inglish, she said, had gotten up at 4:30 in the morning to sign people up for vaccine appointments.
When I reached Inglish, she told me that when the first vaccines arrived at California CVS pharmacies last month, she and her husband, Russ, each working a computer and a cellphone, actually had gotten up at midnight and then again at 2 a.m. to try to get appointments for friends — and finally found openings about 4:30 a.m. At that point, she had to wake up friends in their 90s to get their Medicare numbers — which they told her she could do any day if it got them their shots.
“We’ve tried to get everybody registered that we possibly could,” Inglish told me. “It’s been a time.”
Inglish told me that when she and Russ had the good fortune to retire early, “one of the things we decided is that we would give back because we had gotten so much. We never had time and now we do.”
And so they do and do and do for others.
Which brings me back to my first request that you tell me about great helpers. I promised I would use the stories you gave me to offer up good examples for the rest of us. See above.
Right now, we need to get vaccines in arms. Right now, finding appointments is hard. Right now, many of us can and should follow the examples of Silk, Bowden, Lin, Talcott and Inglish.
For a neighbor. For a friend. For a stranger in need. For all of us who want this pandemic over.
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