More than 1,800 students are heading back to school with immunizations, haircuts and supplies, thanks to the 16th Annual Back to School Health Fair, held recently at South Division High School. The fair also allowed the Milwaukee Health Department to practice its response in case of an emergency.
Organized by the health department, the fair hosted 1,827 students between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Immunizations were given to 257 children.
“This is a great service for the community,” said Jose Rivera, an emergency response planner with the Milwaukee Health Department. “It helps people that don’t have resources to get vaccines and immunizations.”
According to Rivera, if the city were to have an outbreak of a virus and community members needed vaccinations, the health department would use the same setup as the back-to-school health fair. The department could accommodate 3,000 people for immunizations and health checks in a five-hour period.
At the back-to-school fair, health department officials check immunization records to make sure everything is up to date. Families then go through an area where 70 vendors and sponsors offer information and free supplies.
“The sponsors are here to let everyone know where everything is in the community and to let the community know about services,” said Darlene Harper, special projects coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Sponsors such as Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Covering Wisconsin, Autism Society and more set up tables with information and occasional interactive tools, such as nutrition wheels to spin for prizes.
In another area near the school’s gymnasium, dental, blood pressure and health checks are provided, as well as free haircuts. Vision testing and immunizations follow, concluding with an exit survey. Students then pick up a backpack full of school supplies as they leave.
For Shanika Cole and her 4-year-old son, Jumel Terry Jr., walking through the entire fair took about an hour and a half.
“It’s a long process but it’s good,” Cole said.
Cole brought her son to the health fair after hearing about the event from a friend, who also attended with her 6- and 4-year-old girls. Terry Jr. said that his favorite part about the fair was the free bags full of candy, Frisbees and back-to-school supplies from the vendors.
Families are required to get at least 15 vendor signatures on a form to receive a backpack. Backpacks come in a variety of colors and include supplies from the Milwaukee Public Schools supply list such as rulers, markers, notebooks, pencils and even headphones.
“The energy is always really high,” said Kristin Schurk, of the Milwaukee Health Department. “Kids come in, sometimes tears streaming down their faces from immunizations, but families are always really grateful.”
Schurk stood with the group handing out backpacks as the families exited the fair. She said that although the majority of attendees were elementary or high school students, the crowd was diverse.
“We had a 50-something guy come through and say, ‘Listen, I want to go back to get my GED, can I get a backpack too?’” Schurk said, adding that he picked out a navy blue pack.
Elisabeth Pohle, a Milwaukee Health Department employee, said the fair catered to people from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Health department translators stood by to assist in translating Spanish, Korean, Urdu and other languages.
Al Castro, health research program director at the United Community Center, was focused on getting as many vision checks as possible to members of the Latino community.
Castro said that too many people in the Latino community are susceptible to eye disease because they wait too long to get their vision checked.
“We are here to help,” Castro said. “Because we speak the language and are embedded here in the community, people trust us.”
Castro said the health fair not only provides vision checks, but also introduces college students to the world of public health. Medical students from Carroll University assisted health department officials at the fair.
“We are getting future doctors out to the community to get real public health experience.”