Fiesta Bowl marshals parade of kindness at GCU

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information about GCU's COVID-19 Point of Dispensing site, click here.

Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Garrett Ohrenberg
GCU News Bureau

Fiesta Bowl Ambassadors serve breakfast to volunteers at GCU's vaccination site on Friday. The stop was part of the Desert Financial Fiesta Bowl Kindness Arizona Bus Tour.

Click-click-click! Tap-tap-tap!

About a dozen volunteers in Grand Canyon University’s COVID-19 Point of Dispensing dilution room tap the glass vials of Pfizer vaccine in a rhythmic song of sorts to mix it with a dilutant and get it ready for use.

“It’s really precision work. It requires a lot of concentration,” said dilution room volunteer Larry Harlan.

The room is library-quiet most days, compared to the beehive of activity outside as fellow volunteers at the POD, located at the University's 27th Avenue commercial complex, direct traffic, fill out vaccination cards, administer the vaccines and man the observation area, complete with celebratory music piping through the speakers.

But the quietness of the dilution room was broken for a few minutes Friday morning when unexpected visitors from the Desert Financial Fiesta Bowl Kindness Arizona Bus Tour dropped in, bearing gifts in the way of breakfast and uplifting spirits via mascot Spirit and his partner in kindness, GCU mascot Thunder.

Fiesta Bowl Charities Chief Marketing Officer Jose Moreno, a GCU alumnus, said the vaccination site was a perfect fit for the tour. The organization loves GCU's commitment to the community, he said.

“We just wanted to show some appreciation and say ‘thank you’ to what they’re doing,” said Jose Moreno, Chief Marketing Officer for Fiesta Bowl Charities.

“It was very much appreciated,” said William Bayless, one of the dilution room volunteers with a big smile. “It definitely lightens up the room and makes us feel valued.”

The stop was one of 25 in a five-day trek to cover the state in kindness. Projects in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Prescott and Tucson ranged from renovating rooms at a Salvation Army to handing out $50 gas cards at a Circle K and, of course, showing appreciation to health care workers and other vaccine site volunteers at GCU who bring the magic.

The Kindness Arizona Bus Tour came about after the Fiesta Bowl Parade was canceled because of COVID. The 2-mile-long parade through the streets of central Phoenix is the most-attended single-day event annually in Arizona, with more than 100,000 spectators lining the streets.

“We decided to take the parade on the road and bring it to everyone else,” said Bernard Richardson, Fiesta Bowl Corporate Partnerships Manager.

But the re-imagined tour, like the parade, is so much more.

Richardson said the nonprofit Fiesta Bowl’s mission is to give back to the community. Fiesta Bowl Charities, through the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Guaranteed Rate Bowl and community events throughout the year, has given more than $21 million across the state in the past decade, including $5.5 million in 2020-21 alone.

So the Kindness Arizona Bus Tour also had to live up to the Fiesta Bowl’s mission statement of “More than just a game.”

“We didn’t NOT want to do something,” added Moreno, who is also a GCU alumnus. “So we came together in 90 days and said let’s create this caravan that’s going to give back to all of Arizona.”

A highlight of the tour for Moreno was the renovation of a Salvation Army in Tucson on Thursday.

Spirit, the Fiesta Bowl mascot, and Thunder bring a little energy to pump up the volunteers.

“It was a Salvation Army that I grew up volunteering in. It’s a high-need community, and to be able to go in and renovate the learning lounge and teen center, the kids rooms, that was a pretty powerful thing for us. … I know what that would have meant to me to walk in and find a new teen center and kids area.”

Richardson said he loved the tour’s random acts of kindness. Tour partner Desert Financial serves the community with its Random Acts of Kindness program and embraced the idea for this tour.

“At our stops at lunch, Desert Financial was kind enough to provide some large tips for servers. We handed out $300 tips. It was HUGE,” said Richardson.

Moreno said a stop at GCU fit the tour’s focus on youth, education and frontline workers. “We knew that we wanted to do something with a vaccination site,” he said.

“Grand Canyon serving the Alhambra community and this whole entire Phoenix community … we love what they’re doing here,” Moreno said. “What GCU stands for — just the servant-leader mentality, the commitment to the community — that’s (also) what we’re about.”

The University’s vaccination site is unique in that it isn’t contracted with Maricopa County and is operated free of charge. It also reaches out to the most vulnerable populations, offering a walk-through service for those who do not have vehicles while reaching out to community partners to assist them in making appointments.

Some 100 to 150 student, faculty and staff volunteers, along with more volunteers from Maricopa County, man the site daily, six days a week.

Fiesta Bowl Ambassador Gail Reed made sure volunteers received Chick-fil-A breakfast sandwiches and juice.

“Our volunteers are our unsung heroes of this whole thing,” said GCU Emergency Preparedness Manager Marcus Castle.

Over the last two weeks, the University’s POD has administered an average of 2,012 vaccines a day, he added. “Honestly, for another organization to come in and give them recognition is incredible. I think it’s important for other people to see we can’t do this without the volunteers.

“They’re the peanut butter to our jelly that keeps the sandwich stuck together, honestly.”

Nurse Christina Overton, a 2013 graduate of GCU, is happy to be that peanut butter as she prepared vaccines in the dilution room.

“I’ve volunteered at other sites and this is by far my favorite. I might be a little biased because I’m a GCU graduate. But I really find this a rewarding experience,” she said.

While so many health care workers are running on empty in this COVID fight, being at the POD has been that bright light, she said. “This has been the positive side of it, getting to make a difference, trying to get our lives back to normal.”

Amy Charette, who also volunteered in the dilution room, agreed: “It’s a really fun site to volunteer at. … I love it here.”

Fiesta Bowl Ambassador Ronda Parker was more than happy to provide sustenance to Charette, Overton and other volunteers at the site.

“Thank you guys! We appreciate everything you guys do!” she said as she passed out Chick-fil-A breakfast sandwiches and juice.

“We’ve got all of these people that are donating their time to help keep us all healthy and safe. In these kinds of times, these are the kinds of people that we need around,” Parker said.

Marcie Bentz of Sun Lakes, who just received her vaccine and a breakfast sandwich from a Fiesta Bowl Ambassador while she waited in line, said, “You’ve got to hand it to people that step up. That’s what we need more of, that’s for sure.”

“That’s actually so cool they (Kindness Arizona tour organizers) want to give back. That’s really awesome,” said Marisa Takata, a freshman business administration major at GCU, who was pleasantly surprised to get a free breakfast as she volunteered at the observation area.

Claire Winter, a member of the campus’ Environmental Health and Safety team, loved the idea of a kindness tour and thought back at the kindnesses she has seen at the GCU vaccination site.

One thing she has loved seeing is how the YMCA has partnered with Uber to schedule rides so people can get vaccinated. GCU is now partnering with the YMCA, she said, so volunteers at the POD can help schedule Uber rides to get people back home.

About 100 to 150 volunteers a day serve at GCU's vaccination site, one of the stops on the Kindness Arizona tour.

“That’s been one of the coolest things I’ve seen is how so many different agencies have partnered together to get different parts of the community vaccinated,” Winter said.

But what she loves most is when people express how they are so grateful for what the POD volunteers do. “It feels like it shouldn’t even be such an emotional reaction because it should be second nature to do (to help others). So seeing these people being so grateful, it’s just really one of my favorite things to see here.”

And to be thanked by the Fiesta Bowl was a plus.

“With the constant fast pace of this place, sometimes I think people (volunteers) forget that we’re really appreciative of them here. Big gestures like this help morale and just, honestly, it’s going to make today great. … It reminds them we’re all here for a purpose and just to be kind.”

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

Related content:

GCU Today: GCU COVID vaccination site opens to public by appointment

GCU Today: Walk-through option steps up COVID vaccinations

GCU Today: Dose of success: GCU administers 50,000 vaccine

Fox 10: Desert Financial Fiesta Bowl Kindness Arizona Caravan surprises GCU vaccine volunteers with breakfast


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