By Darlene Donloe
LEIMERT PARK — Community Build and Lyft are joining forces to provide residents in South Los Angeles with access to free or discounted rides to COVID-19 vaccination appointments.
Community Build President Robert Sausedo and Van Pierszalowski, Lyft’s community organizer for Southern California, announced the joint venture April 1 at a press conference at Community Build’s headquarters.
Sausedo said the aim of the program is to eliminate barriers to vaccination in areas hardest hit by the coronavirus.
“We wanted to do this for a couple of reasons,” said Sausedo, who is fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. “We get a lot of calls from people asking where are the vaccination sites. They even asked if we can pick them up.
“When the opportunity with Lyft came up, it made sense. So few African Americans are getting vaccinated. When we peel back the onion, we know about conspiracies and then lack of transportation comes up. We think this is a great way to get people to remove the barrier of no transportation. We are encouraging everyone to get the vaccination.”
“Access to reliable transportation represents a major barrier to care for millions of Americans across the country, especially for vulnerable communities,” Pierszalowski said. “The strength of all of our partners, including Community Build, combined with our ability to address transportation barriers enables us to support equitable vaccine access to those who need it most.”
South Los Angeles residents who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine who do not have an appointment may call (877) 822-7933) to schedule a vaccine appointment and to obtain access to free or discounted rides for round-trip transportation via Lyft to a designated vaccination site. Community Build, dedicated to the revitalization of South Los Angeles communities through investment in youth and commercial economic development, has partnered with several South Los Angeles vaccination sites to provide appointments to local residents.
According to the state Department of Public Health, nearly a third of Californians have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, but in South Los Angeles only 6% or residents have been vaccinated.
To get the word out about the program, Sausedo said they launched the website, VaccineRydes.com.
South Los Angeles residents with vaccine appointments who have the Lyft app on their phone can log onto VaccineRydes.com to register for access to a free or discounted Lyft ride for round trip transportation to their vaccine appointment within a 10-mile radius.
Sausedo said the limit is a 10-mile radius because Community Build “does not have a full budget right now to do the entire county.”
Sausedo said the organization would have to raise $100,000 to $200,000 to accommodate the entire county.
Currently, Community Build has a $15,000 grant from Lyft, one of the largest transportation networks in the United States and Canada.
“This is the starting point,” said Sausedo, who called Lyft “a great partner.”
“They have made a commitment to reload the coupon access codes as they are depleted. Depending on the success of the program, we will expand with additional resources from Lyft and with other resources we are expecting to obtain. We have a commitment for as long as we need from Lyft.”
Sausedo, who lost his father to COVID in December and a friend to the virus in January, said providing transportation to South Los Angeles residents has always been vital.
“It’s been important the entire time,” he said. “All of us have been building the airplane as we fly it. As resources avail themselves, how do you get them to the people? How are they responding? The first wave of a vaccination — when you saw people from Malibu come and wait in line on the east side at Kedren —people were thinking, what am I missing. The question became how do we incorporate cultural relevance in the messaging?”
The Community Build collaboration is part of Lyft’s Universal Vaccine Access campaign, which is mobilizing a coalition of partners to provide access to rides to and from vaccination sites across the country.
It was announced last week that in California all residents over the age of 50 are now eligible to receive the vaccine. Reportedly, more than 18 million shots have already been dispensed. As of April 15, everyone 16 and over is eligible to get vaccinated.
“My hope for the program is this,” Sausedo said. “I am hopeful this opportunity will encourage people to get vaccinated because the access concern has been addressed. I’m hopeful our effort will be part of the solution to those getting exposed to COVID and that it will broaden the conversation around equity and what corporate citizenship should look like.”
Sausedo, who was recently nominated for the 2021 Nonprofit and Corporate Citizenship Award by the Los Angeles Business Journal, acknowledged that Los Angeles has gone through a lot in the last year.
“For the first time since the Spanish flu, a crisis has hit everyone the same way,” he said. “Black, white, Latino, etc. There are things we will see that will not go back to normal in terms of how we interact. Some jobs will not return. I believe Community Build has grown during this time. COVID created a cry for a lot of ‘Do Differents’.”
Sausedo said COVID created an opportunity for real dialogue and spotlight on systemic issues related to racism, like food insecurity.
“People of color are actually hurting,” he said. “There is a silent hunger that exists in the city. It was already pervasive but not known to all of us.
“It has forced people to relook at their business model and business relevance. We now know that we can’t continue to do business the same way.”