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Our partnership with Epicenter-NYC and TBN24 to deliver Covid vaccines in an undervaccinated neighborhood in New York City’s borough of Queens won this year’s digital innovation award for “Best Audience Listening Strategy” from the Local Media Association.

“This project is truly inspiring,” the judges said. “Partnering with two other news organizations to bring a life-saving vaccine to a community in need brings new meaning to journalism’s mission of ‘serving the public.’ … This line right here says it all: ‘Meeting people where they are. Engagement. Listening.’ This is how journalism changes peoples’ lives.”

We launched our partnership under the grant to increase vaccine distribution in July 2021, working with two New York-based news organizations,  Epicenter-NYC, a Queens hyperlocal, and TBN24, serving the Bangladeshi emigre community. This work in Queens Village, a part of the New York City borough of Queens that borders on Long Island and occupies zip code 11429, was part of a grant called the Vaccine Equity Partner Engagement, with the Fund for Public Health of New York City, using Centers for Disease Control money, in partnership with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene of New York City. The grant was an outgrowth of our previous work reporting on the vaccine delivery.

Using grant funds, we found partners in a vaccine van run by New York City Health + Hospitals that parked near the Ss. Joachim and Anne Roman Catholic Church in Queens Village, making free, no-appointment vaccine and testing available two days a week for a year and a half. Under the program, we provided support staff, logistics and publicity for the van, where thousands of people were vaccinated and tested, at a time when vaccines and testing were sometimes hard to get and sometimes very costly.

The Local Media Association works with more than 3,000 newspapers, broadcasters, digital news sites and other partners. This listening award, one of several local digital innovation awards, “recognizes the collective efforts of a newsroom to create a strategy around listening to audiences and what changes were made to newsroom strategy as a result of those listening efforts,” the judges said.

Second place went to Conecta Arizona, and honorable mentions went to the RJ Media Group with its Latino Reporting Lab and WBEZ public radio in Chicago.

The Local Media Association contest recognizes the best in local digital media in 15 categories such as Best Local Website, Best Virtual Event, Best Branded Content Strategy and more. The announcement of our award came in a tweet and awards listing.

Our partnership work

The V.E.P.E. work in Queens Village began with encouraging vaccine delivery to underserved neighborhoods in the New York City Taskforce for Racial Inclusion and Equity neighborhoods. The goal changed with the circumstances. Initially vaccine persuasion and delivery were the goals; then testing became one of the deliverables; then delivering information about broader topics like primary care, education, financial aid, food insecurity and legal consultations became part of the program.

Our work first consisted of establishing a relationship with New York Health + Hospitals, the public hospital group in the city, which scheduled a mobile van to come to the neighborhood to deliver vaccines and testing in September 2021. Residents of this neighborhood had not had easy access to vaccines or testing. The van came almost every Wednesday and Sunday for a year and a half to our vaccine site, just outside the Ss. Joachim and Anne Roman Catholic Church at the corner of Robard Lane and Hollis Avenue, near Wayanda Park, 217-72 Hollis Ave., Queens Village, N.Y.

Arranging the van’s appearance was complicated, because they needed to have a wireless connection and also restroom availability. The church supplied that and became our home base in the community, from which we were able to reach out to local businesses, schools and individuals.

Team captain was Adriana Proano, who staffed the crew on the ground in Queens Village, kept schedules, maintained relations with Health + Hospitals and the church, sought out efforts to expand our distribution, and kept the traffic running smoothly, even in the frantic early days of vaccine shortages and the high-pressure Omicron surge.

The first grant was issued in July 2021; it was renewed in January 2022, and renewed again in June 2022, ending in December 2022. Our staff members on the ground supported the team of health care providers in the van, by assisting with directing traffic, publicizing our presence and giving out information. Our team also distributed home test kits, masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and so on to people coming to get tested and vaccinated as well as to the parishioners at the church, schools and business in the neighborhood and other members of the community.

This vaccine work came about organically. In early 2021, we reported intensively on the disaster that was the vaccine rollout, and began offering solutions to our community members, including a hotline scheduling vaccine appointments (at Epicenter) and broad reporting in our communities and nationwide, with a collaborative of “vaccine angels” in Maryland, Chicago, San Diego, northern Westchester, Boston and elsewhere.

New York was extremely hard hit early on by the virus. We spent a great deal of time and resources listening to our communities and trying to help them. Ultimately, we saw some grant offers to encourage vaccine distribution, and in partnership with Epicenter-NYC and TBN24 brought forth the Queens partnership, with New York Health + Hospitals and the Ss. Joachim and Anne church as our partners.

Read more about the partnership here.

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...