Sanford volunteer back at it after receiving COVID-19 vaccine

Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 5:56 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The Coronavirus vaccine is allowing many to get back to the things they love, and one Sioux Falls man who spent the last year in independent living, is finally returned to volunteering Thursday.

87-year-old Don Gaarder has been volunteering at Sanford for 27 years.

“So many people need help. So many of them younger than I out here and can hardly get in by themselves and so on. It’s just nice to be able to help someone,” said Gaarder.

Gaarder’s first day back volunteering was Thursday after the pandemic forced him and others to take a break.

“There was a hole, I always say they’re the frosting on the cake. We could do the everyday job that we need to do, but they do really add that little extra touch that we need for our patients and our families when they come through the door,” Sanford Director of Volunteers Nona Bixler said.

Gaarder helps lead people to the vaccine or a doctor’s appointment. He hasn’t been able to volunteer since last March, but after receiving both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine he began to lend a helping hand again.

“He comes twice a week, but we’ve missed him for a whole year and so it’s amazing it’s just like a reunion,” Bixler said.

“He has been looking forward to it, and hoping that this pandemic doesn’t last too much longer,” Don’s wife Alta Gaarder added.

“It’s something to do and I feel healthy enough to be out and doing something,” Gaarder said.

A lot of things have changed at Sanford over the last year, like new doctors and the vaccine rollout, and as over 400 volunteers slowly come back to duty they’ve had to adjust. However, Gaarder was prepared for change on his first day back.

“A year ago I knew exactly where they were, I have a cheat sheet with their names and so on so when a person comes in and say ‘I need to see Dr. so and so’ I can take them right there,” said Gaarder.

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