Thousands of volunteers help New Jersey residents get COVID-19 vaccine, testing appointments

Volunteers are helping New Jersey residents make appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine or COVID-19 tests.
What started out as just helping out friends and family to find vaccine appointments, quickly turned into helping thousands of New Jersey residents. And now with the demand for testing going up, the volunteers are pivoting to meet the demand.
“We can put you together with a volunteer. They can help you get your vaccination appointment at 1 a.m. when you’re asleep,” says volunteer Sandy Thompson.
Thompson has a full plate. She is a wife, mother of two and a student. In between all of her duties she is also a volunteer for the New Jersey COVID Vaccine Info Facebook page.
“In the beginning, it was a lot of giving information about where vaccines are available. Then an amazing communal effort started with helping to actually get the appointments for people, which was just astounding,” Thompson says.
Almost a year later, the Facebook group is helping New Jersey residents find vaccine appointments and now testing sites. It has over 130,000 members and over 20 moderators. The volunteers are all working mostly from their homes and sometimes at strange hours when vaccination clinics release new appointments.
“Last year, Hackensack Meridian released their appointments for the Bergen mega center at midnight, and they would go in seconds,” says Thompson. “It was craziness. There was definitely waking up at 4 a.m. when CVS would go live when you just got to bed at 1 a.m. when Rite Aid ended. It was crazy for a few months.”
Getting a vaccine has gotten a lot easier this year, with supply being more available. However, the demand for testing has since gone up and that's forced volunteers to expand from just finding vaccine appointments to now finding testing sites. Christine Shenkman is the vice president of corporate security at a financial firm, a wife, a mom. She also volunteers her time.
“Coming into the holidays, we had to pivot, because a lot of folks started to trickle in with needs for testing,” she says. “The availability and access really changed and Omicron did not help and folks really became desperate coming to us, looking for that.”
The page will remain active for as long as necessary. Volunteers say as long as there is a need, they will be of service.
“It seems like every time we turn around, there's still a need and people still come to the page. They still ask questions and they still look for direction,” says Shenkman.
The group's reach sometimes extends to neighboring states but most of the people they help are New Jersey residents. And they say one of the biggest challenges they've had is not being able to help everyone every time.