In 1979, Rotary began its worldwide fight against polio with an ambitious project to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines. Six years later, Rotary International launched the first and largest coordinated private-sector support of a public health initiative, announcing a fundraising target of $120 million in the U.S. By 1994, polio had been eliminated from the Americas; by 2000, eradication had spread to most of the Western Hemisphere.
As of today, just over 40 years since launching its first drive, Rotary has helped reduce polio cases by 99.9% worldwide.
While the origins of this drive are hard to pinpoint, it’s easy to imagine local Rotary leaders somewhere gathered around a table, contemplating how they could help. Little did they know they would save thousands of lives.
Similar discussions take place here at Rotary 29 – which has led to dictionary drives, financial assistance for teachers, and holiday bell-ringing for the Salvation Army.
And in 2014, Rotary 29 made a decision that has come full circle to its earlier efforts to fight a pandemic. That’s the year our club donated $50,000 to the Oklahoma Caring Foundation, to help replace an 11-year-old van. The vans serve as a mobile clinic for children and their families around our city and state – primarily under-served citizens who need immunizations and other basic healthcare screenings.
The foundation has shown itself to be good stewards of its money. Since Rotary 29’s initial gift, the Oklahoma Caring Foundation has expanded its services – more vans, more nurses, more coverage, more immunizations. And when the pandemic hit in 2020, the foundation did what we all did. It adapted to the moment.
That year, like thousands of other healthcare workers, Caring Foundation nurses and technicians began providing covid tests to people around the state, including our state’s most vulnerable populations. A year later, with the development and distribution of vaccines, the Caring Foundation pivoted once again, offering the covid vaccine in addition to its regular flu and immunization shots.
In 2021 alone, the foundation made 548 site visits and gave almost 19,000 immunizations. Included in this number were 601 children and 8,722 adults who received covid vaccines.
Considering our state’s resistance to mask mandates, vaccinations, and other safety protocols – coupled with the proven effectiveness of vaccinations – it’s clear that the Oklahoma Caring Foundation helped save lives. Its legions of supporters, volunteers and staff members deserve part of the credit. As does Rotary 29.
We don’t always get to see our charitable contributions make such a dramatic difference. And clearly, saving lives is as meaningful a gift as can be provided. “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” With our grant to the Oklahoma Caring Foundation in 2014, the answer is “yes.”
Just as it was to those Rotarians somewhere around a table in 1979.