Fighting COVID-19

From Helpless to Hopeful: First Deployment Leaves Lasting Feeling of Unity

Service employee shares experience as vaccination volunteer

Blogger’s note: Lia McLaughlin is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee based in Portland, Oregon. Normally, she manages tribal wildlife grants and state wildlife grants for the Wildlife and Sportsfish Restoration Program but earlier this year she answered the call to help her country in the fight against COVID-19. For 30 days, Lia teamed up with other volunteers to assist with vaccination efforts in Rochester, New York. Lia inspired us with her story and we have shared it below. Thank you to Lia and all those who are serving our country during this time!

USFWS employee Lia stands with fellow volunteers displaying a record number — over 55 thousand — vaccines they helped administer.
Photo: Off the charts! USFWS volunteer Lia McLaughlin (center right) with fellow volunteers showing the number of vaccinations they have assisted with — more than 55 thousand!

What was your deployment assignment?

I provided general general support and vaccine preparation — assisted with daily vaccination tracking for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and New York State (NYS).

What made you want to volunteer?

After more than a year of feeling helpless to do anything to really help with the pandemic, I really wanted to do something. This was an opportunity to help all of us be able to see friends and family again and get back to a more normal life.

Photo (right): The outside entrance of the vaccination site where Lia was deployed for 30 days; Photo (left) Instructors from FEMA train volunteers on proper technique and protocol.

Any takeaways, anecdotes, or quotes about your experience that you’d like to share?

This was my first experience on any type of deployment. FEMA and NYS partnered on this facility, which was intentionally located in an underserved community. The area around the community vaccination center was rough, but the community was so supportive. I can’t count how many times people thanked us for being there. I know that many of the folks that came in would have had a tough time getting to other vaccination sites, and likely would not have gotten vaccinated if this site wasn’t there.

There were so many wonderful people that worked at the site and that came in. People donated food, some cooked whole lunches for the staff. Many agencies were also involved, including FEMA, NYS, DOI, Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA site contractors, and health care contractors. It was so interesting to get to know so many different people from all over the U.S. and territories. I was also impressed how well everyone worked together.

​One person from the community really stood out. Sister Rita worked at a local homeless shelter. She alone brought in more than 150 people for vaccinations. She did this by personally transporting people one and two at a time and staying with them through the whole process. Many of the people she brought in she had known for years. She didn’t think what she was doing was worth any fanfare or recognition. We were all so impressed with her dedication and the trusting relationships she had developed in the community. We gave her a card, certificate of recognition, and a small donation to the homeless shelter on the last day as a small token of our appreciation. She was so surprised.

Also, the Landmark Society of Western NY is planning to make the site a landmark. In addition to the marker, they are raising money for a mural to be painted on a building that borders the parking lot where the tents were set up.

Photo (left): Vaccination volunteers from many agencies teamed up to share the love and administer the COVID vaccine along with some free goodies; Photo (right): Volunteering with a smile was a common theme Lia found while deployed at the vaccination site in Rochester, NY.

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