How Toyota and community partners in D-FW are teaming up to improve access to vaccines

VOMO Toyota vaccination volunteers

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Originally appeared in Dallas Morning News

This year, COVID-19 vaccination rollouts have become one of the country’s most promising yet challenging efforts. But in North Texas, the collaboration between corporations, nonprofits and other community partners has been key in helping improve the public’s access to vaccines.

In this video, which first aired on Facebook Live, host Ron Corning talks with Colleen Casey, senior manager of inclusive mobility at Toyota Social Innovation, to discuss how the company has stepped forward to do their part during a pivotal time. Kyle Rakow, vice president and national director at AARP Driver Safety; Rob Peabody, chief executive officer of VOMO; and Gillian Breidanbach, vice president of community and civic engagement for The Dallas Morning News, also join the conversation.

Video table of contents

1:45: The Toyota Production System Support Center

3:36: How Toyota has impacted vaccination sites in Fair Park and Frisco

6:09: Mobility programs for vaccines

10:03: Collaborating with AARP Driver Safety

18:26: Collaborating with VOMO and FWD>DFW

As a top leader in the automotive industry, Toyota’s outreach efforts have extended beyond the scope of assembling vehicles. One valuable asset Casey credits is the Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC), a team that shares their knowledge of the Toyota production system principles with nonprofit partners and local governments for free. By sharing their know-how, the TSCC is able to help other organizations improve their process efficiency, engage in continuous improvement, and improve customer satisfaction and experience. The principles have been useful throughout the pandemic, from helping hospital systems with emergency room efficiency to ensuring food banks could still operate amid a rise in food insecure families.

Vaccination sites in North Texas

At the height of the pandemic, Casey says Toyota focused on helping communities meet basic needs like gaining access to food. As vaccines became widely available, the TSCC took initiative to help improve vaccine hubs around North Texas. At vaccination sites in Fair Park and Frisco, administrators say the Toyota team was ready to hit the ground running upon arrival.

“Toyota was able to capture numbers that we were never able to before and help us increase those numbers,” says Joseph Garza, maritime enforcement officer with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Scott Tarzwell, operations section chief at Fair Park, adds that their site was originally doing up to 2,500 vaccinations a day and with Toyota’s help, reached almost 10,000 a day.

Elizabeth Chase, material services manager for the Frisco Public Library, believes the success in partnering with Toyota goes hand-in-hand with two of the city of Frisco’s core values: operational excellence and outstanding customer service.

“That really aligned with what Toyota does in terms of respect for people,” Chase says.

Casey agrees, adding that Toyota’s efforts aren’t about coming in to do the work alone, but about working together. “Core to sharing [our] principles is that our partners are engaged alongside us.”

Utilizing mobility programs

While many people can now receive vaccines at convenient locations like local pharmacies or doctor’s offices, accessibility is still a common roadblock. As a problem-solving company, Casey says Toyota wanted to find the root cause of this issue and saw that across the country, some people could not get to vaccination sites and needed services brought to them directly. As a result, Toyota launched programs in 13 states including Texas that utilize mobility while bringing vaccine awareness to underserved communities.

“We’re really thinking about making sure we’re solving that access problem both in terms of getting people to vaccination sites and making sure they have the information and resources they need to make good decisions in this space,” Casey says.

In California, Toyota partnered with the Los Angeles County Fire Department to provide vehicles for delivering vaccines to those who are homebound. Toyota also collaborated with UnidosUS, a Hispanic nonprofit advocacy organization, to launch a nationwide mobile vaccination education awareness campaign to relay vaccine information to the public and inform Latino communities on how to register for an appointment. Now, Toyota’s newest partnership is with the AARP and specifically focuses on helping older Americans find transportation to a vaccination site.

Partnering with AARP

AARP’s Kyle Rakow says the group’s mission is to increase mobility through rider and driver safety, and he calls the collaboration with Toyota a tremendous honor. The decade-long partnership first began with a focus on driver safety education and helping individuals extend their safe driving years. Given Toyota’s innovation and forward thinking, Rakow says helping improve the public’s access to vaccines presented a great opportunity, especially to target those 50 or older.

AARP’s new Ride@50+ program allows older adults to find and book free local transportation options via a mobile app or an online booking platform — and Dallas residents can now book a ride for their vaccine appointments and other essential trips. For those who may not have access to cell phones or computers, AARP provides a customer service number where representatives assist in booking rides and processing payments, as well as supporting first-time passengers and helping develop a trusting relationship within the program.

Thanks to funding from Toyota grants, Ride@50+ also eases financial barriers by providing passengers with free rides. To reach rural communities or other individuals who may lack access to transportation, Rakow says AARP and Toyota are using technology to explore volunteer driving organizations. The value of collaborating during the pandemic, he adds, is showing up to be there for the most vulnerable communities.

“[Toyota] is so much more than a partner or collaborator in this program. They bring a lot of industry expertise and it’s just been a joy to work together.”

Bringing in VOMO and FWD>DFW

To find volunteers, Toyota has utilized the help of VOMO, a web platform and app that allows people to find organizations that need volunteers. Organizations can also post what kind of help they require, ranging from donations to gifts to skills.

VOMO’s Rob Peabody says the site has become a crucial resource for organizations hit hardest during the pandemic, due to overwhelming demand across the nonprofit sector in D-FW. Over the last year, the platform has expanded globally to over 30 countries.

“The ability to connect those who have needs and those who can meet those needs is just a really powerful opportunity that technology has given us and the way we leverage it today,” Peabody says.

Spreading the word helps communities move forward, and Peabody credits forums like FWD>DFW for featuring stories during the pandemic that shed light on organizations doing their part. Gillian Breidanbach, vice president of community and civic engagement for The Dallas Morning News, says three years ago, FWD>DFW was a platform to talk about corporations linking to causes in the community, and now collaboration has helped bring community involvement to the forefront.

“With partners like Toyota, AARP and VOMO, we really are able to bring volunteer opportunities to anybody, regardless of where they are in the country,” Breidanbach says.

This summer, FWD>DFW is launching a virtual volunteer campaign called Find Your Silver Lining, allowing anyone to help their neighbors get access to the COVID-19 vaccine. FWD>DFW and VOMO have also partnered to connect North Texans with a variety of volunteer opportunities where everyone can browse by category, location or interest and even keep track of their volunteer hours. And after a year like 2020, Peabody says simply taking a few hours out of your day to help out can bring healing and health to every community.

“It’s a way to change somebody’s life and allow yourself to live for something that’s bigger than you.”

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