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By Alice E. Gerard
It was a frosty and windy Monday morning with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees. Along Whitehaven Road and into the parking lot of the Nike Base, cars were lined up. Over the weekend, the drivers of those cars found out that the Golden Age Center was to be a distribution point for sets of KN95 masks and COVID-19 at-home antigen test kits. Each household was entitled to receive two home testing kits, containing two tests each.
The distribution at the Grand Island Golden Age Center on Jan. 10 was a pop-up event that was arranged during the weekend. According to Jennifer Menter, recreation supervisor of the Golden Age Center, “It really was a whirlwind of an event, because we did just receive word that we were able to have it this past Friday night. So, it came together very quickly. It was a great success. It was a nice event to have, to help out our community at such a crazy time.”
The Town of Grand Island was allocated 900 rapid test kits and 8,000 masks by the Erie County Department of Health, which had received 40,000 rapid test kits, to be dispersed throughout the county, in every city, town and village, with the number of kits and masks being based on population. The City of Buffalo, with a population of 279,383, received the most test kits, with 11,000 rapid test kits being distributed in five locations. Grand Island, which had one distribution site, has a current population of 21,389.
Menter said the test kits were distributed in about two hours. After there were no more test kits available, she and other staff members of the Grand Island Golden Age Center, as well as the Grand Island Recreation Department, continued to pass out masks. She explained the Golden Age Center had been “passing out masks since day one, since this pandemic started back in March 2020.”
Jen Menter hands masks and two sets of test kits to a driver, who had been waiting in line at the Jan. 10 pop-up event.
Menter described the response to the pop-up event as “continuous. It’s been nonstop. It’s been consistent. It’s really been great today. People have been very patient. They’ve been very grateful. They have been very respectful. They’ve been very positive. It’s been nice.”
As soon as Menter found out on Jan. 7 that the distribution was going to happen, she began to work on an advertising plan.
“I started setting up word and writing up a flyer to start spreading the word about this event. I started setting up the event on Saturday to get ready for the event, which happened today, on Monday morning,” Menter said.
She described her next steps to making the pop-up event a reality.
“When I started seeing on the news and on social media about how other towns were responding to these pop-up COVID-19 home test distributions, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to tweak it this way and rethink it,’ ” Menter said. “Just seeing how people are coming out, and there were lines going down the street and stuff, that’s when I thought that I’m going to have to make sure to have the Grand Island Police Department on the scene to make sure to help with traffic control, along with myself and so forth. I’m really grateful to have the help of Laura from recreation and the help of the Recreation Department in helping me put up the cones and barricades and things of that nature, because that helped in having a nice, smooth drive-thru, so that we could still not only have the Nike Base open for programs and for our employees to come in and out of safely, or, in the case of an emergency, to have emergency personnel come in and out safely, but, at the same time, too, for our recreational opportunities to still be able to happen in a safe manner and for business to happen in a safe manner; but at the same time, to have an emergency event such as this in the middle of a pandemic to happen in a safe manner, too. I’m glad that the word got out really easily and very smoothly because, for this to be executed in two days and for these tests to be gone in two hours, is just crazy.”
When asked about any potential plans for another test kit/KN95 mask distribution, Menter said, “The biggest question that everyone had was, ‘Are you going to have more and more of these rapid COVID-19 home test kits?’ You know, of course, I hope to have more of these test kits. We had 900 of these test kits, and Erie County received 40,000 of them to help the entire county. With that being said, we’ll try our best to get more of these test kits. I’ll try my best to push some buttons to get some more to help the people in our community, as well. We tried our best to spread the word as fast as we could over a two-day’s time to help as many people as we could. If we are able to get more of these test kits out into the community, then we will share that information with the public as soon as possible. We will run this event in the same way as the last one, as a drive-thru, pop-up event.”
Menter noted the Golden Age Center continues to distribute masks, which include KN95 masks, surgical masks and cloth masks. People can pick up masks when the center is open, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. weekdays.
According to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in an Erie County Department of Health press release, Erie County is experiencing an “extraordinary surge in COVID-19 cases.”
“This is not a one-and-done event,” he said. “My administration and the Health Department are committed to providing additional testing supplies and PPE to our residents to support public health and safety, especially for residents in our county who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.”