Bernalillo Co Parks and Rec employees among the unlikely heroes in vaccine distribution

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Unlikely heroes are part of the reason New Mexico is having success distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

Since December, dozens of Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation workers have been helping thousands of New Mexicans get their vaccine.

Before the pandemic, Leroy Hiles was coordinating after school activities at county community centers. Now, he’s strategizing parking and drive-thru vaccines at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

""It was chaos the first two weekends, was crazy, now we all have it down really good," he said.

Once Leroy helps people find a parking spot, Maya Saavedra and Desiree Perea help New Mexicans through the vaccine process.

"I’m outside in registration, so once everybody gets in line we do their paperwork and get them checked in and make sure they have appointments and all their stuff filled out – and then I send them to Des," Saavedra said.

COVID-19 has kept hundreds of local Parks and Recreation workers from doing what they love for too long.

Community centers have been closed, and the return of summer programs is still in the works.

When Bernalillo County managers realized they were going to have multiple mass vaccination events starting the day after Christmas, they tapped into a valuable, yet unexpected resource.

"They have really stepped up and taken over things that, you know, there’s only so many of us in the Department of Health who can do this," said Laurie Garretson of the New Mexico Department of Health.

Her "Tappers," as she affectionately calls them, fill thousands of syringes with COVID-19 vaccines at the events.

But she admits, without Hiles, Saavedra and Perea, and the dozens of other Parks and Recreation workers, New Mexico would not be among the leaders in vaccine distribution.