To read this article in Spanish, click here. The lower level of St. Gall Church, 5511 S. Sawyer Ave., was buzzing with activity on March 13 as 500 people received the first round of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during an event organized by the Chicago Department of Public Health, the Southwest Organizing Project, Friend Health and Catholic Charities. The daylong event was part of the city’s Protect Chicago Plus effort to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. St. Gall is located in the mostly Latino neighborhood of Gage Park, and vaccinations were open to those living in the 60629 and 60636 ZIP codes. Most people registered for the vaccines in advance, but some walk-up appointments were available. Marilu Gonzalez, City Southwest regional director for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, said Catholic churches are home to many types of events, but that day’s was different. “I think the uniqueness of this event is that it’s happening in a church, a place where people worship, where people trust, where people come and gather and celebrate, and to grieve sometimes,” she said. “But this time, today, it’s really focused on a celebration of looking ahead and not behind, of trusting us as Catholic Charities, trusting the community of providers that are administering the vaccine and believing that we’re getting over the hump. That’s a blessing.” Catholic Charities utilized its long-established relationships with residents, many of whom are hesitant to go to the doctor and who may be undocumented, to get the word out about the event. “It was our senior clients,” Gonzalez said. “It was people who come to the food pantry. It was ministers in the parish who actually got the word out.” Because of Catholic Charities’ good relationship with the community, it was easy to reach the most vulnerable and register them to receive the vaccine, she said. Karen Jimenez works for Friend Health, which administered the vaccine, and is a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Parish, 2944 E. 88th St., and understands the role churches can play when reaching out to residents about vital health care. “We try to build those community partners, but it all depends. It doesn’t have to be just community organizations. It can also be churches,” Jimenez said. “This area here, Gage Park, is one of those hardest hit by the virus.” Partnerships are important in reaching the most vulnerable, said Wendy Thompson, chief strategy officer for Friend Health. “We strategically partnered with St. Gall and Catholic Charities, the Southwest Organizing Project and other key community stakeholders to ensure that we were identifying Gage Park residents, and, in fact the most vulnerable, especially seniors, individuals who might not have access to internet capabilities for registering,” she said. “Those are the folks who often get left out.” They used every vaccine they had by opening up to walk-ins. “It’s just so important. It’s not just about saving your life, it’s about saving the lives of those people you love, your neighbors,” Thompson said. “The sooner we can get everyone vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to the new normal.” The Archdiocese of Chicago is conducting an ongoing campaign encouraging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 that includes resources for parishes (see archchicago.org/coronavirus/covid-vaccine). In mid-February, the Archdiocese of Chicago, in partnership with Agudath Israel of Illinois and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod school systems, rolled out a COVID-19 vaccination plan for all employees in the three faith-based school systems.