The church of San Lorenzo, Dufferin, in co-ordination with the City of Toronto Health Department, ran a vaccination clinic for Toronto’s Latin American community on Oct. 23. The afternoon clinic delivered 34 vaccines. The church also partnered with Unison to run a free food market with the clinic that provided fresh fruit and vegetables to more than 200 families. Bishop Andrew Asbil and his wife Mary attended and spoke with the nurses and community members.
It was the latest in a series of seven clinics run by the church, which has been active in promoting public health measures since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last March. The Rev. Canon Hernan Astudillo, incumbent, was inspired to act not only by his faith, but also by the fact that the Latin American community was disproportionately affected by the virus. Data released by Toronto Public Health showed that 83 per cent of people with a reported COVID-19 infection identified with a racialized group.
In April of this year, Canon Astudillo was contacted by Rosemary Bell, a community development officer at the City of Toronto who has been rolling out the community coordination plan and COVID-19 pandemic support in North York. She asked Canon Astudillo if he would like to be a community ambassador, given his leadership role and wide reach within the Latin American community, not just with Anglicans but also those of other denominations. He was keen to be involved and when he told Ms. Bell he would like to run vaccine clinics, she was able to connect him with the right people.
San Lorenzo is uniquely placed to reach the Latin American community, as the church runs Voces Latinas CHHA 1610 AM, a CRTC licensed Spanish-language community radio station, which the church uses to broadcast public health messages. Canon Astudillo estimates that through the radio station, the church was able to inspire around 50,000 people to get vaccinated. He also spread the message through social media, posting photos of himself receiving the vaccine.
Canon Astudillo has been at the frontline of supporting the Latin American community and has seen first-hand the impact COVID-19 has had, including close to home. Last May, one of the early victims of COVID 19 was Arturo, a prominent radio personality in the Latin American community and a long-time radio announcer on CHHA 1610 AM. Canon Astudillo has also received many calls from funeral homes across the city. “One experience that shocked me was a funeral for two seniors who were a married couple, 76 and 79 years old, who died of COVID-19 on the same day, 12 hours apart. Only 10 people were allowed to attend the funeral.”
But running the vaccine clinics has given him a sense of hope. “I, as a priest, we, as a Church, have to be out in front at critical moments. Jesus was there at critical moments in history, he was the voice of hope, solidarity and love. That must be my role as a priest. This is a hard moment, but we are here with open hearts and open hands.”
San Lorenzo and the Toronto Health Department have evaluated the success of the clinics, and there were plans to run another vaccine clinic in November as part of Voces Latino’s 17th anniversary celebrations.