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North Texas churches stepping up to solve vaccine hesitancy and improve access

"They're helping the needy and not the greedy. We have a need and they're meeting the need and we're very appreciative of that," says Michael Randell.

DALLAS — The role of churches in convincing congregations to seek out and receive COVID-19 vaccines is increasing across North Texas. Due to that, Good Friday was a very good Friday for 73-year-old Michael Randell. 

Randell was among the first 250 residents of South and East Dallas to receive first doses of COVID-19 vaccinations at a "Together We Vaccinate" event at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church. 

In partnership with Catalyst Health Network, which also turned to the church parking lot into a COVID-19 testing site in the early stages of the pandemic, residents who registered in advance received their vaccinations with as little as a 10-minute wait. 

"It was more convenient," Randell said. "It was in the neighborhood."

It's the reason the church offered vaccines Friday. 

St. Luke, and its Project Unity effort, is less than three miles from the mass vaccination hub at Fair Park. But church-based sites like it are what pastor and former SMU football star Richie Butler believes is needed in neighborhoods like this.

"I'm really focused on getting us across the goal line," Butler said. "If there is some hesitancy, that's a place I trust. So, if I'm going to take a leap of faith, it's going to be at the church."

That's what Crystal Tyler said.

"I was just afraid," said Tyler, explaining her reluctance to seek out a vaccination before Friday. "I had a hard time finding somewhere to get the shot. And when I found out my church was giving the shot, I was like oh, let me find it there first."

"What churches provide in these areas is a relationship of trust," Catalyst Health Network President Christopher Crow said. "That's the stage where we are in this country right now is to get more precise, to get more shots in arms, and it's going to take more trusting relationships than just the mega sites to do so." 

The residents who received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Friday will be given their second dose at the same church location on April 23.

Meanwhile, the church and Catalyst will have a second Together We Vaccinate event Saturday, April 10, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Southwest Center Mall (Red Bird Mall), located at 3662 W. Camp Wisdom Road in Dallas. The second vaccine dose will be Saturday, May 1, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Southwest Center. 

RELATED: Project Unity hosts 'Together We Vaccinate' event Friday

"They're just blessed," said Randell after receiving his vaccination. "They're helping the needy and not the greedy. We have a need and they're meeting the need, and we're very appreciative of that."

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson's office also arranged free Uber rides to Project Unity COVID-19 vaccination sites if needed.

Also on this Good Friday, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) announced it has joined with Nexgen Specialty Pharmacy, a COVID-19 vaccine federal retail pharmacy partner, to open a COVID-19 vaccination center at Good Street Baptist Church.  

Nexgen will begin administering the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, April 5 at 11:30 a.m. at Good Street Baptist Church, located at 3110 Bonnie View Road in Dallas. To register for the vaccine, go to nexgenpharm.com.