His name began with a D.
On any other day, I know with certainty I would remember the name of the person who stood by my side and held an umbrella over my head for nearly three hours in a driving rainstorm.
I’m good with names, after all.
I’m a people person. Strangers tell me their life stories every day.
But I probably wrote down 100 names Wednesday morning and my conversations with “D” were limited.
We just didn’t have time.
I knew it would be hectic working as a volunteer at a Covid-19 vaccine clinic at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
Still, I had plans.
I stuffed a notebook inside my raincoat and got permission to put on my reporter hat during my time as a volunteer.
Honestly, I thought it would be pretty easy to do that.
But what’s that they say about best laid plans?
• • •
I decided I wanted to volunteer, and write about it, a few weeks ago when I talked to clinic organizers about volunteer shortages.
There are a couple of different areas in need of volunteers, and I thought I might visit each spot to see what they did.
I never made it past the first.
Some county’s vaccination clinics are indoors. Raleigh County’s mass vaccination clinic is outside and allows patients to receive shots in the comfort of their own cars.
Professionals take care of actual traffic control, but volunteers are needed to register those in line for the vaccine.
If you’re familiar with the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, you probably know what I’m talking about when I say the parking lots on the hills out back. There are a couple levels up there. Volunteers park on the top level and then walk down to the middle lot to sign in and receive instructions.
The clinic starts at 8:30 a.m., and volunteers can work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or split their shifts from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
I had an appointment at 1 p.m., so I chose the morning shift.
When you arrive, you receive a volunteer badge, a clipboard with paperwork and some instructions.
The assignment is simple, but hectic.
There are seven lanes of cars and I’m told there are usually 27 cars in each lane.
Volunteers take one car at a time and register each person in the car who is receiving the vaccine.
When I was grad school, I worked at a call center one summer and can remember a script I read.
I think I kind of got to that point during my volunteer morning.
To register someone for the vaccine, I needed their basic information, name, address, number, etc.
There were some general health questions and then I said, “I just need you to initial, initial, print, sign and date.”
I handed over some information about the vaccine, gave them their vaccination cards and told them to have a nice day.
Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.
My plan to ask patients questions for a story, however, went out the window immediately. There wasn’t time.
We had one job. Register and move on. As soon as we got to the end of one lane of cars, that lane was sent to the bottom of the hill for their shots, and we moved to the next lane.
If I had held up a car for an interview, I think that might have been a bad move.
I generally think of myself as a smart person. Usually, anyway. But it took me a minute to get comfortable with what I was doing. I was nervous.
I’m not sure if it was the gravity of the moment — I was helping people get vaccinated!!! — or maybe it was because I couldn’t move my rain-soaked fingers in the beginning and my pages were stuck together.
Either way, I think it was about 15 minutes before I even began making casual car-to-car conversation with “D,” the volunteer who got stuck holding the umbrella for me.
Like I said, on any other day, I would have known everything about him.
About an hour in, however, I looked at him and said, “you’re not National Guard.” Seriously, that’s when I finally slowed down long enough to realize he wasn’t in uniform.
At the registration tent, it seemed as though almost everyone was National Guard, so when I was assigned a partner I guess my brain just went in that direction.
Unfortunately, all I can tell you about “D” is that he’s most likely in his early 20s. He’s an AmeriCorps volunteer from Philadelphia and he’s not really a Phillies fan. That’s fine by me because I’m a Braves fan and they’re National League East enemies.
I can also say he did a good job at keeping my papers dry before the rains slowed enough that he closed the umbrella, got his own clipboard and began registering his own cars.
I never saw him again after that, but I did see a few familiar faces.
It had been a while since I had seen a couple of people I went to high school with but helping them register for their Covid shots was a nice reunion.
And I talked to one of them again on Facebook today. His wife was in the car with him that morning but recently had cancer and was waiting to hear from her oncologist to find out if she was cleared to get vaccinated.
During our Facebook chat he told me she got the OK and plans to go back for her first vaccine Wednesday.
There were a mix of ages, races and excitement levels during the brief time I spent registering patients.
There were single riders and vans packed with six people.
Some wanted it over with and some smiled ear-to-ear and thanked me profusely for “all we were doing.”
That made me uncomfortable.
I’m not really doing anything.
Well, I guess I kind of was that morning. But it still wasn’t much of anything in the grand scheme of everything that’s happened.
And everything that so many others have done and continue to do.
That morning was nice.
I actually didn’t leave at 12. It was 12:39 and I didn’t want to go.
There weren’t enough volunteers and I felt guilty.
I heard there were even fewer volunteers the next day when the temperatures plummeted.
That tends to happen when the weather is bad.
But the need is still there.
Volunteers registered nearly 900 patients the day I was there — in a rainstorm.
You can sign up to be a volunteer by contacting the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce. They’d love to have you — single you, group you, or however you want to come — for however many hours you have to offer.
My volunteer experience wasn’t exactly what I planned.
I didn’t interview anyone or make it to any other areas.
I’ll leave that for another day.
And of course, I don’t know who “D” is and that’s OK. Now that I’m thinking about it, that might now even be his initial.
Maybe I’ll just call him “V” for volunteer instead.
I think I like that better anyway.
To volunteer with the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce, call 304-252-7328, email email@example.com or visit the Chamber of Commerce on Facebook.
— Email: firstname.lastname@example.org