February is the month of sweethearts and love, of longer days and shortening nights. The word love is awesome in that it can be a noun or a verb. On Jan. 30, Eatonville High School hosted an event that has not been at any school for several generations — a Herculean event with a strong partnership with Kirk Heinz, Kirk’s Pharmacy and the Eatonville School District.
We jumped at the chance to assist the medical professionals in holding space for and manning the operations to host a COVID-19 vaccine event for 1,000 walk ups. We had a week to prepare, and many partners came to our assistance. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department provided vaccines, and EMS provided technical assistance and materials such as personal protective equipment. Doctors and nurses came to volunteer, and the school staff volunteered time, food and provisions. What a week it was with preparations.
However, nothing prepared me for the experience, and I do not mean the traffic, logistics or long hours. Nothing prepared me for how this experience made me feel. Early in the morning, giving out tickets to hundreds of cold people who had waited in line for hours and some overnight, I saw their relief and happiness. Some were so elderly, they pushed their wheelchairs or walkers up the sidewalk laden with cracks and rocks. Given a colored ticket to come back for their appointment, they beamed and yelled, “Hooray.”
Later, when we were vaccinating 150 people per hour, I was able to see each one as they went to the team of two who would administer their shot. I saw so many tears of joy, comments of gratefulness and smiles behind the masks. I thought many times of my own parents so far across the states and hoped that someone would treat them as kindly as all of the volunteers that day. I hoped that their communities would embrace them to make their vaccination not just a shot, but an event filled with joy.
Cheering after they got the injection, they went to sit in the gym for 15 minutes. The gym was filled with hope. Many selfies were taken along with comments about the beautiful gym floors. In the gym, I tracked down a character named Knute Orton. You see, Knute caught my eye as he ambled over to get his shot. Hunched over his cane, he moved with determination far ahead of his companion. I asked to take his picture. He said “Yes. Do you want me to take off my mask? You know I had COVID in the spring in my home and survived it. I am 90 years old.” His companion stated, “No, Knute you have to keep the mask on … for your safety.”
I laughed and asked him if he was Norwegian or Swedish with a name like Knute. He said he was Norwegian, and I told him that I was too and that we were kindred spirits! He laughed and said, “We were Vikings: strong and tough!” He is coming back to see me in 28 days for his second dose!
As I walked away I was struck in my heart with a realization that this event saved the lives of so many who were needing hope. Many who had not been out for a year, at least not with so many people. All of the volunteers spoke with so many people who wanted to tell us their story of wanting to live, of what they have done during the pandemic, and one woman who told me she had not hugged anyone for close to a year. This comment took my breath away and still does. To not feel the touch of another person in a hug for that long is unimaginable.
Miracles happened this day. Hope was reignited and friendships were made. We will have this amazing group of 1,000 back on Feb. 27. I can’t wait to see them and assist them in getting their second dose. A party will ensue that day.
May we thank medicine and the hearts and hands of those who serve. The volunteers and the medical professionals made this event happen: with love, laughter and great commitment.
Whether love is a verb or a noun, it looks like action and takes care of the most vulnerable. It cherishes and has tenderness for those in need. It wells up in your throat as you see so many people grateful for their lives. The possibility of vanquishing this terrible pandemic that has stolen so many lives and impacted us all. Thank you Kirk: You are a dear friend to our town. Your heart is big!
We look forward to reopening schools to our students this month. We have partnered with so many organizations to ensure the protocols and strategies are as safe and aligned to the CDC/OSPI guidelines. We know that face-to-face instruction is so important, and we will work hard to keep our staff and students safe.
And as your superintendent, I am so grateful for such a caring and compassionate community who takes care of people. The willingness to do what is hard and good is demonstrated every day in Eatonville schools.
This month is about love, making it visible and showing our children and grandchildren that it is an active verb. One that is humble and tender and works resolutely for the betterment of all.
I can’t wait to see my Viking friend of 90! I can’t wait to see our children learn and thrive this month!
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