💉 Six questions with a vaccine volunteer

It’s Friday, Portland!

If you’re not caught up on the news of the week like our local documentarian Cheryl Green on her new film, why PDX is blooming with love for the Thorns, our latest edition of Did You Eat Yet, and the three finalists for Weird Portland United’s mural project, then you should be good to go with the above links 😉.

A week or so ago, I asked you what we as the Bridgeliner community could do to say “thank you” to the volunteers helping to distribute vaccines at the Oregon Convention Center, which will close down vaccination operations this June. We got an array of lovely submissions which we used to create a poll that you all voted on.

And folks, the votes are in! The most popular pick was to interview one of the volunteers who helped at the OCC and feature them in the newsletter. 😊 If you scroll on down you’ll get to read just that: We spoke with volunteer and Bridgeliner reader Nick Schoeps, who reached out after our initial ask.

Here’s what he had to say about the experience…

Mind telling us a little bit about yourself as a Portlander and a Bridgeliner reader? 

I’ve been a Portlander for almost 10 years now. I’m an engineer by training and that is very much my day-to-day, as well as consulting work.

My work is with electric vehicles, and my wife and I live in Northeast Portland. Like many Bridgeliner readers, we enjoy getting outside, experiencing the Portland food scene, and this city is a great place to call home.

How did you get into volunteering at the Convention Center and what do your role and responsibilities entail? 

My wife signed me up for this actually! She said it would be a good way to give back — and she’s right, it is.

I jumped around between a few different volunteer roles: I was a greeter; deliverer of vaccine supplies; basically anything they have on the list that I could help with as a non-clinical staff member.

I’m not trained in the medical field, but they still needed warm bodies to point people in the right direction.

What’s the routine of an average day at the OCC?

It’s surprisingly casual and well-run at the same time. I started volunteering sometime in February or March, and by then they were over any growing pains and everything was running like clockwork. They were used to having volunteers show up untrained, and would give you a quick orientation in the morning before letting you pick up your badge and running you through what to expect and what to look out for. For example, if you’re a monitor, all you’re doing for the entire length of your shift is walking in circles and making sure people don’t fall off their chairs [after getting their shot].

If you’re a vaccine runner, you’re basically walking up and down aisles and refilling bins of vaccines, which at first is really striking, because you’re handling a thousand vaccines a day. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow there are a LOT of vaccines here, that is wild!”

But when the Convention Center is processing 5,000, 6,000, 8,000 people a day, you need that kind of supply to meet that demand.

The volunteer crew at the OCC seems to be a well-oiled machine — was that the experience from day one? How was this accomplished? 

That was the case for my whole experience as a volunteer; almost everybody that came through the center seemed to say the same thing. I was pretty low on the totem pole as a volunteer, but there are some really well-trained volunteers there — some paid, some unpaid — to keep things moving and running smoothly. That includes the onsite nurses, physicians, the National Guard, as well as people doing tech for OHSU. I met a person who was doing just that — he was paid to come down and work one of the shifts throughout the day.

What were some of the challenges you experienced as a volunteer, and conversely, what were some of the rewards?

I don’t want to oversell what I did — I was just walking in circles and making sure folks didn’t fall out of their chairs. The biggest challenge for me was scheduling — making sure I found time to go volunteer there.

Another thing — and you may have felt similar when walking into the Convention Center — I saw more people all at once than I had seen in over a year. One of the unexpected rewards of being in that environment is that you’re in a rare position where there are pockets of downtime and you can strike up a lot of single-serving conversations with people. You forget how rewarding that can be — you might learn about a great spot to buy produce at the Lake Oswego farmer’s market because someone shared that with you on a given day. Or just [hear] the perspective of someone coming all the way out from Welches or farther to come and get their shot.

That was really rewarding.

What has been meaningful to you when it comes to volunteering at this strange point in history? 

It’s nice to see a silver lining when you’re at the Convention Center — or at least some hopefulness. You’re there with your fellow humans, and everyone is there because they are part of a community that’s moving forward. You don’t see anyone cutting in lines, and everything is moving like a well-oiled machine. Everyone is working together to get back to life, get back to work, and get back to being healthy, happy citizens. That alone was the biggest takeaway for me.

And I know that sounds very bubblegum, but I think we need that especially after the past few months.

What are some ways that folks can give back to or support OCC volunteers?

As a volunteer I personally don’t feel like I need anything — the experience has been rewarding enough. I think whatever Bridgeliner readers decide on will be meaningful. Honestly, I’m already thinking of what the next volunteer opportunity will be when the OCC wraps up as a vaccination station. I feel like I want to help clean up the streets outside my front door, help clear litter, and find ways to make our city feel whole again after having such a rewarding experience. Finding ways to volunteer in your community, wherever it is, is a nice first step.

What are you and your family looking forward to doing as things become safer and spots reopen in PDX?

Everything. We’ve had a small group of friends — a pod — who we see regularly, and our idea of going out usually means surfing, skiing, or mountain biking, which haven’t been quite as hampered by the pandemic as other activities.

One thing that I’ve been yearning for is to just be in a seedy bar with a great atmosphere and a bunch of people watching a Timbers game and raising beer mugs together — that would be great, I could get into that.

Thank you to our Bridgeliner Unabridged members. Stories like these are made possible with your membership and support.