Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
The Irving Mall was packed on Aug. 18. The parking lot entrance to the food court was filled with a line that snaked around both sides and out into the food court, making its way towards folding tables manned by volunteers who were filling out paperwork and screening clients.
The Back to School Fiesta is the mall's yearly event during which it teams up with Amerigroup and Care Van to give out free vaccinations and school supplies to students starting school in a few weeks. The event focused on children who qualify for Medicaid and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) and those who are under-insured. The vaccinations administered by Care Van nurses were the mandatory vaccinations these kids need in order to attend classes this fall.
Irving Mall's director of marking, Liz Barth, was very positive about the benefits and unique scope of their event that was meant not only to provide medical aid to kids, but also to create an event that is truly for the community.
“Other events will give away school supplies, but the school supplies are just the icing on the cake. We want to get the kids out and give them a reason to be immunized. Our goal was to try to service between 300 and 400 kids, and we reached just under 350,” Barth said.
“We didn't want people to just show up at some building, get the shots and leave,” she continued. “We wanted to make an experience – we wanted to provide a fun atmosphere. No one wants to get shots, so we wanted to have more of an exciting event.”
Although the hundreds of attendees made the event look like a logistical nightmare, the fiesta ran like a finely tuned Italian sports car. Barth pointed out that logistics, not the supply of vaccinations limited the number of children they could service. She assured me that they had enough shots to immunize all the children who came, but the lengthy screening process slowed down the procedures.
“We had to do the appropriate screenings and make sure the shots were done medically correct. There's only so many kids you can get in at one time,” explained Barth. “We had a system where we gave colored bands for every hour whenever they first registered, so that if they came a little bit later, they could come back. They wouldn't have to stay in line, they could show their bands when their appointment was.”
Besides immunizations, there were various organizations that came out in support of good health. The Fire Department offered free blood pressure monitoring (for the adults, mostly), and DART had a Wheel-of-Fortune style game where kids could spin and win Band-Aids and other supplies. The Irving Family Dental Clinic embraced the spirit of season, as well, and offered free exams and cleanings to youngsters who qualified for vaccinations.
Beth Stodieck is the lead nurse and area coordinator for the Dallas/Fort Worth area for Care Van, a nonprofit that specializes in providing free vaccinations to underprivileged children.
“There is a population who does not have the means to go to a private physician. Care Van goes one step further than most other providers because we charge nothing for our services. Most providers charge a fee for administration,” Stodieck said.
It is a testament to the community that it can come together to give kids the vaccinations they need. Although most of these kids have some form of medical coverage, none of it is adequate, but Irving's citizens and businesses are stepping in to pick up the slack.