By Janis Fontaine
For the Rev. Joseph Dawkins of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Delray Beach, serving the senior community has been a passion since he was a young man. When ambition took him to Dallas and he had to leave his mother behind in Ocala, Dawkins worried.
When she told him a young man, without being asked, had been coming by to mow her lawn for free, Dawkins was first suspicious, then grateful. That man’s act of kindness made such an impression, Dawkins made a commitment to help people who can’t do for themselves. It’s a passion the pastor shares with his wife, Reather.
When the coronavirus came along 18 months ago, it seemed to draw a bead on the population Dawkins was most committed to serving. An unexpected blessing was that the church had already been getting ready to add virtual services.
“We were ahead of the curve,” Dawkins said. “We’d already bought the equipment. We had brought in installers and hired a few experts and we were ready to go.”
The church was ready to reach and be reached on Facebook or YouTube or the church’s website.
But people were still vulnerable. When vaccines against COVID-19 became available to older adults, it became Dawkins’ mission to see that St. Paul MBC’s seniors got the shots. “Our vaccination rate is high among age 55 and older,” he said. “Almost 100% are vaccinated.”
The church accomplished this through a series of vaccination outreach efforts, which initially included helping people register with public health agencies, then hosting a series of vaccination days in April and May in partnership with Meadows Pharmacy.
The church became a state-sanctioned vaccine distribution site, but when the rate of vaccinations fell to a trickle, it became easier to send people directly to Meadows Pharmacy than to host clinics.
Still, vaccination rates among ages 54 and younger in his church community are lower than Dawkins would like: He guessed only about half have taken the shots.
At first the impediments were getting people registered for the vaccine and arranging transportation. But the team solved those issues, almost on a one-by-one basis. Don’t have computer access? We’ll enter the data. Can’t get out of your car? We’ll come out to you. Don’t have an appointment? We take walk-ups. Don’t have transportation? We’ll drive you or find someplace easy to get to on public transportation.
Those were easy problems to solve, Dawkins said. And it’s still easy to register, whether you’re a church member or not. Just call the church to set up your appointment at the pharmacy and “skip the line.”
Today the biggest hurdle is misinformation. But Dawkins deals with this issue the same way: calmly and one on one.
“We went knocking on doors and talking to people sitting under the trees. We tried to explain facts and dispel rumors. It was a boots-on-the-ground effort,” he said.
The Rev. Howard Barr of St. Paul “has a live prayer line every morning from 7:30 to 8 a.m.,” Dawkins said. “He does more than pray. He tries to get the facts out. He answers questions and settles arguments.” With listeners from New York to Dallas, he tries to calm the vitriol of social media and cable news.
But it’s not just negative reporting that keeps people away. Dawkins says some cultural obstacles exist, including a general mistrust about medical procedures.
But right now, Dawkins is excited about another milestone: The church will commemorate 92 years of service to the community in August with a series of events. This will include a celebration on the fourth Sunday, Aug. 22.
Check www.saintpaulmbc.org or call 561-278-7149 for details. The church is at 46 SW 10th Ave.
Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and community events. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.