WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) — More than 25% of people in Erie County now have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. But getting an appointment for the shot has not been easy for most. So that’s where Mary Ann Gambino stepped in to help.
“I just said, ‘I could do this for people,'” Gambino said.
For the past month, Gambino has spent most of her time at the dining room table. She recently retired from the Williamsville School District and realized she had some free time on her hands, so she posted on Facebook and the Nextdoor App, asking if anyone needed help making vaccine appointments.
“Next thing you know, people are reaching out to me that I don’t even know, trusting me with their personal information,” she said.
Friends, family and complete strangers came to her, begging for help.
“It’s a challenge,” she said. “It’s almost like winning the lottery when you get someone an appointment.”
It’s taken too many hours to count, but Gambino has won that lottery dozens of times now… getting about 100 people appointments.
Her trick? She jokes she got Carpal Tunnel from hitting refresh so many times.
And the responses she gets from those people make her day.
The past year has been especially tough on Gambino’s family because her daughter Jennifer has Cystic Fibrosis. Jennifer’s body creates a thick, sticky mucus that clogs her lungs, making COVID-19 a very scary threat.
“You see people on the news in the hospital fighting for a breath,” she said. “Well, CF patients fight for their breath every day.
Gambino made sure her entire family got vaccine appointments so they could spend time together again and keep Jennifer safe.
But then, she noticed something that really touched her heart.
“At the same time that I was putting out there that the COVID vaccines are available and I can get people appointments, I also had been fundraising for the Great Strides Walk, (which I do) every year on Facebook.”
Without asking for it, or knowingly promoting it, she realized the people she helped get appointments for were donating to her CF cause.
It was the greatest gift to her as a mother… critical dollars that are providing hope for her daughter Jennifer… after she provided the same to so many.
“We make ‘tomorrows’ for people with Cystic Fibrosis: every drug, every dollar earned and spent on research, is another ‘tomorrow’ for these folks,” she said. “So I was making ‘tomorrows’ for people with the COVID vaccine, and they were making ‘tomorrows’ for people with CF.”
Kelsey Anderson is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.