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Fond du Lac County COVID-19 campaign targets underserved populations

By October 16, 2021COVID-19

FOND DU LAC ‚ÄstAs COVID-19 cases rise¬† ‚ÄĒ and with it hospitalizations ‚ÄĒ a grassroots coalition aims¬†to deliver vital information to marginalized groups in Fond du Lac County.

A Stop the Spread campaign has shown up with pop-up tents and vaccines at places like La Mexicana Minimart and Restaurant in Fond du Lac and the Pride Alliance picnic held this summer at Lakeside Park.

The campaign heads next to the rural countryside on Oct. 26 to target employees at Lake Breeze Dairy in Malone, many of whom are Hispanic.

Spearheaded by the Fond du Lac Area United Way and its former executive director, Tina Potter, this community equity project aims to meet diverse populations where they are and features familiar faces and trusted voices in the community in a widespread marketing effort.

RELATED:¬†Half of Fond du Lac County’s population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose

RELATED:¬†Stock the Shelves: Feeding America’s Fresh Stop program connects local pantries to fresh produce

‚ÄúWe are working to get the vaccine rate up in people of color, those who live in very rural areas and within the LGBTQ+ community,‚ÄĚ Potter said. ‚ÄúThese are groups where culture, circumstances¬†and language can sometimes impede access to events and facts on how to combat the virus.‚ÄĚ

The effort was launched this past April and its achievements were recognized Wednesday evening by Fond du Lac City Council with a proclamation to Fond du Lac Area United Way and the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Project.

Local residents ‚ÄĒ¬†called trusted messengers¬†‚ÄĒ are pictured¬†on billboards and posters displayed throughout the Fond du Lac area and inside city buses that carry messages¬†containing facts on COVID-19 in both English and Spanish.

Antonio Godfrey Sr. said he stepped up to be the face on a billboard and the voice in radio spots to reach members of the local Black community because, he says, there is so much misinformation circulating. Godfrey is vice president of Ebony Vision, a group that works to foster a more inclusive community. 

Black Americans have a long history of suffering medical abuse through exploitation, experimentation, forced sterilization and denied treatment for disease, which fosters a lingering, deep-rooted mistrust. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Black community has born the brunt of the virus, and are twice as likely to die compared to their white counterparts.

‚ÄúI stepped¬†up to let people know these¬†are the facts,¬†you can trust science and it‚Äôs OK¬†to get the vaccine,‚ÄĚ Godfrey said. ‚ÄĚI did it for¬†my wife, my children, my sister-in-law with stage 4 cancer. … I did it because I care about my community as a whole.‚ÄĚ

Hiram Rabadan, president of Latinos Unidos en Fond du Lac, is a trusted messenger in the local Hispanic community and agrees with Godfrey that misinformation has been the biggest deterrent preventing Mexicans, Hondurans, Puerto Ricans and others from Latino cultures from getting the vaccine.

His face on campaign posters is meant to encourage, he says, and help Hispanic people make informed decisions.

‚ÄúSome people will say to me, ‘I do trust you, I just don‚Äôt trust the vaccine,'” Rabadan said. “But when we turn up¬†in places like the Mexican store, where people shop and cash their checks, when we come to them, it makes a¬†difference. That day, 39 people got vaccinated, so it‚Äôs definitely an approach that is working.”

Within the Hmong community, Chantelle Cha, a nurse from the Fond du Lac County Health Department, and Ger Xiong a business development specialist for Advocap, have been helping behind the scene, on a one-to-one basis, to reach their peers, Potter said.

The campaign is funded through a $50,000 vaccine equity grant awarded to the United Way. The funds were used to pay for COVID-19 pop-up events, radio and television ads, digital signs and the broadcast of a video featuring doctors from SSM Health in Fond du Lac. Organizers also recruited two local cab companies to get people to and from vaccination sites.

‚ÄúIt‚Äôs about community helping community and no one getting left out or left behind in the fight for the facts on COVID-19,‚ÄĚ United Way Executive Director Amber Kilawee said. ‚ÄúAll the grant money for this campaign was spent locally, and¬†everything we did¬†was done for the people who live here.‚ÄĚ

Data from the Fond du Lac County Health Department indicates vaccination rates among certain demographic groups increased during the campaign (June 1 through Sept. 30) as follows:

  • ¬†American Indian residents: 16.4% increased to 21.2% (4.8% increase)
  • ¬†Asian residents: 29.3% increased to 35.6% (6.3 increase)
  • ¬†Black/African American residents: 15.2% increased to 21.3% (6.1% increase)
  • ¬†White residents: 40.2% increased to 44.9% (4.7% increase)
  • ¬†Hispanic residents: 29.2% increased to 42.7% (13.5% increase)¬†
  • ¬†Non-Hispanic residents: 41.1% increased to 47.9% (6.8% increase)

So far, an estimated 250 people were vaccinated due to the campaign’s efforts, Kilawee said.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Health Services announced more funds will be made available to promote racial and geographic equity in the state’s COVID-19 response. The CDC awarded¬†DHS $27 million to combat inequities related to COVID-19 infection, illness¬†and death, including $9 million dedicated to rural communities.

An additional $13 million in funding has been set aside to continue the Vaccine Community Outreach grant program, which funds organizations across Wisconsin to increase vaccinations by serving as trusted messengers within their communities, build vaccine confidence, and reduce barriers that hinder vaccine access for marginalized or underserved populations, DHS said. 

‚ÄúCommunities of color are bearing the brunt of this pandemic, which has exacerbated existing health disparities in Wisconsin,‚ÄĚ said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. ‚ÄúRacism and systemic barriers, including lack of access to quality health care, job opportunities, housing, and transportation, have made these Wisconsinites more vulnerable to COVID-19.‚ÄĚ

Partners in the Fond du Lac County project include the Fond du Lac School District, Fond du Lac County Health Department, Ebony Vision, Latinos Unidos en Fond du Lac, SSM Health as well as other nonprofits in the community.

Contact Sharon Roznik at 920-907-7936 or Follow her on Facebook at

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