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Faith Groups Help Vaccinate Petersburg

By SHSJC Student Deja Hobbs, written for JAC 310, Prof. Lynn Waltz

PETERSBURG,Va-- The black church has long been a safe space for the African American community to turn to in times of despair, uncertainty, and unrest.

So, when Petersburg, Virginia, a small and largely African American city, was hit hard by Covid-19, it is no surprise that faith leaders played an oversized role in trying to prevent the spread of the disease, helping those afflicted and encouraging vaccinations when they became available.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Metropolitan Baptist Church, located on the corner of Halifax Street in the heart of Petersburg, was forced to close its doors. The church began producing online services to air via Youtube Live.

Pastor Lamont Hobbs urged those watching every Sunday to stay safe and healthy while providing comfort and hope.

“Even broken crayons can still color,” said Hobbs in his New Year’s Eve sermon, a message of hope and faith despite the tragedies of 2020.

Hobbs has continued to push for health and safety during the pandemic.

“We are dying more and getting vaccinated less., Something has to change,” he said in an interview.

Petersburg has seen 3,694 cases, 156 hospitalizations, and 81 deaths since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Virginia health department.

In Virginia, just over 262,000 Black people have been vaccinated, compared to almost 1.2 million white people.

Nearly 10,000 Petersburg residents have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Metropolitan is one of several churches in the area to play a role in getting Black people informed and vaccinated.

Tabernacle Baptist Church is now a vaccination site giving out the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, adding a local trusted option to the area.

Virginia State University, the state’s largest vaccination site, has also helped. Registration systems and waiting lists have been developed to make the process for efficient.

Hobbs received his vaccine at the Petersburg Health Department in early January.

“I was shocked to see the amount of whites lined up in Petersburg,” he said. Since the city has a Black population of 77 percent and a white population of 18.3 percent. the pastor was baffled by the lack of black turnout.

This inspired him to do all that he could to get his community informed and vaccinated.

Hobbs was able to get his shot after Tamara Bailey-Hobbs, a family member who works at the Petersburg Health Department, called him and said there were leftovers that were going to waste after people didn’t show up for their appointments. Since then, Tamara Bailey-Hobbs has called him many times help to find people to get the leftover vaccine.

“I reach out to my family, friends, even people on the street. I don’t want any of this life saving vaccine to go to waste,” she said. She often worked overtime to ensure that no vaccine went into the trash.

During a typical week, Bailey-Hobbs calls Pastor Hobbs and tells him how many doses are left. He then calls everyone he knows; from members of his congregation, to cousins and even friends.

Those who wanted to get vaccinated would send a list of their names and names of family members who were getting vaccinated. They would head down to the health department and get their shot!

Together, the two would get from 10 to 50 vaccination candidates each day.

Over time, Pastor Hobbs sent over 300 of his friends, friends of friends, family, and congregation to be vaccinated.

“When Pastor Hobbs called me, I jumped up so quickly! I wanted the vaccine, but I wasn’t sure how to go about getting it. He was my Angel!,” said Mary Burrow who received her vaccine.

After a tough battle with the coronavirus, she was itching to get vaccinated.

Burrow and many others who accessed the vaccine through Mr. Hobbs would call him after receiving their shots expressing their thanks.

“I am grateful for Tamara and her dedication. I was just doing what I could,” said Hobbs when speaking about the amount of gratitude people had for him.

Hobbs is excited to see the growing number of vaccines in the area.

“I am glad to see people getting informed and vaccinated,” Hobbs said. ‘Hopefully, we can return to in-person worship services soon!”

Note: Due to pandemic conditions: Students were given permission to interview family members.