By REBECCA HERSH
EDISON – Edison officials, as well as Middlesex County Commissioner Charles Tomaro, recognized the work of volunteers who helped secure vaccination appointments for over 1,400 Edison residents in the late winter and early spring – a time when vaccine appointments were very difficult to come by.
The volunteers, who were presented with certificates of recognition and a resolution by the Township Council on June 28, were part of a group organized by an Edison resident who started the volunteer team.
The effort initially began with Biral Patel, who reached out to several hundred seniors to help them get registered at the New Jersey Convention and Expo Center in Edison – one of the state’s six mega vaccine sites – and the vaccination site at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
In his speech, Patel thanked the volunteers and their families, and noted that the volunteers’ work was not over, even though vaccine appointments are now much easier to obtain.
“The volunteers are still energized and excited, and will not shy away from helping Edison’s residents in any possible way,” he said.
In late January, when vaccination appointments were difficult to schedule, several community members, as well as teachers and school district employees, reached out to Patel for assistance in securing vaccine appointments.
Because of his high-profile volunteer work in the Edison community since the start of the pandemic, residents sought out his assistance in this new chapter.
In June 2020, he was recognized on the Middlesex County government’s social media pages, where they posted, “Since the start of the pandemic, Biral has been working tirelessly day and night with relief efforts in several areas across Middlesex County. His efforts include providing over 50 senior families groceries and free meals on a daily basis in and around Edison, helping to deliver food to pantries across the county, organizing food drives to help those in need, collecting PPE and other essentials for hospitals, nursing homes, and residents, encouraging fellow residents to raise funds, and providing emotional support to people in need to help overcome this crisis. His efforts are truly remarkable.”
Recognizing the need to get as many of Edison’s residents vaccinated as possible, Patel decided to start helping Edison residents find appointments on the State of New Jersey vaccine registration site. In March, pharmacies started offering vaccine appointments but spots generally opened up very late at night or very early in the morning, and filled up instantly. So, Patel started staying up late every night, and waking up early every morning, helping residents book appointments.
Word of his work started spreading on social media, and shortly thereafter, several Edison residents reached out to join the vaccine volunteer group, and called themselves “Edison Community Vaccine Help.”
Several volunteers, including professionals, high school students, and existing township volunteers, created a Google vaccine sign-up form for interested residents to fill out, and the team worked around the clock – starting as early as 4 a.m. and staying up until 1 a.m. – to secure appointments for eligible residents – including senior citizens, first responders, educators and school staff, childcare workers, and other Edison residents with qualifying medical conditions.
Their efforts helped Edison become one of the most well-vaccinated towns in the county.
In addition to securing the vaccine appointments, the volunteers also gave rides to several senior citizens who could not get to the vaccination sites themselves.
Resident Don Tarr, who received a vaccine appointment from the group, said, “My wife and I are so thankful to this group. When we were struggling to find vaccine appointments. This group found both of us appointments within two hours of registering.”
Tomaro congratulated Patel and the rest of the volunteers, noting, “Everyone understands how difficult it was to get vaccine appointments. The group registered over 1,400 people and they should be commended and congratulated; everybody should be very proud of them.”
Council President Bob Diehl called the group’s work “heroism” and added, “Tonight we recognize these individuals who make the world a better place.”
In addition to Patel, the volunteer team included: Subramaniam Dharmarajan, Sravan Kumar Natakala, Subodh Sharma, Mansi Sharma, Jyothi Kolanu, Varenya Amagowmi, Pallavi Karande Dutta, Nagesh Ganti, Sowjanya Siddavarapu, Neeraj Nagpal, Pranav Thota, Lily Choy Baidowsky, Aravindakshan Subbaiah, Paridhi Anand and Roshan Sabaree Yuvaraj.