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Hobbs honored for making sure residents could access vaccine
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Hobbs honored for making sure residents could access vaccine

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When Wendy Hobbs was invited to attend the Sunday morning service at Antioch Baptist Church as a guest last Sunday, she knew it had something to do with her recent efforts to help make sure as many members of the congregation as possible had access to the COVID-19 vaccination.

What she didn’t know, however, was that the entire day had been dedicated to her.

A former prison warden and current president of the Goochland NAACP, Hobbs doesn’t get flustered easily. But even she admits that it was hard not to get just a little emotional when she looked down at her church program and realized that the church members had declared Sunday as “Wendy Hobbs Day.”

According to Antioch Deacon Dr. Wilbert Ware, the recognition of Hobbs was meant to honor her for her tireless efforts on behalf of the many local senior citizens — many of them people of color — that Hobbs helped connect with vaccination appointments earlier this year.

“We just wanted to recognize her and thank her for the work that she did,” said Ware, noting that Hobbs had personally seen to it that over 125 members of the church received the vaccine.

Hobbs explained that it was important to her, particularly in her role as the head of the local NAACP chapter, to ensure that Black residents had equitable access to vaccinations. When she reached out to the Chickahominy Health District to see what she could do to further that mission, they presented her with an offer: They would give her vaccination slots if she would find the people to fill them.

Hobbs, as is her nature, jumped in with both feet. Starting in February, she began using every possible resource she could think of to reach residents who wanted to be vaccinated. Oftentimes people would reach out to her with their frustrations over not being able to make a vaccination appointment and she would quickly get them signed up. On the first day she was given a list of appointment times, Hobbs said, she signed up 265 people.

She then signed up 100 more, then another hundred. By the time April came and access to the vaccine began to be open to all, Hobbs had signed up over 1,200 people.

Despite the countless hours she spent on the vaccination effort, Hobbs insists it never felt like a burden to her.

“I was just happy to do it,” she said Sunday. “Because the sooner they could get the shot the sooner we could get back to some sort of normalcy.”

Hobbs said it was truly a joy to be able to help, particularly seniors and those who otherwise might have struggled to get their vaccine.

Said Hobbs: “It was just so nice to see the relief on their faces when they could finally say ‘I got my shot.’”

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An effort by a local church to get into the restaurant business is not sitting will with its neighbors, and now it will be up to county supervisors to decide whether or not to allow the project to move forward.

On July 8, Hope Church’s plan to create a café-style eating establishment within their current church building, located at 12445 Patterson Ave., went before county Planning Commissioners. And while the new venture was described by pastor David Dwight as a simple, small-scale project intended to offer coffee and café-style fare with limited cooking, several county residents living near the church say they already feel like they’ve been burned.

As detailed in the church’s request for an amendment to its original Conditional Use Permit (CUP), opening the planned café and coffee shop would require some renovation to the existing structure — and the installation of commercial kitchen equipment--but no modifications to the outside of the church. Kitchen renovations will not be permitted to include the installation of a hood system for ventilation, which will limit the type of cooking that can be done and also prevent any odors from impacting nearby properties.

According to the request, the church will be entering into an agreement with the owners of Toast, who also own other dining establishments in the area and are members of the church, to create and operate the coffee shop and café.

Dwight explained that the café would not be run as a for-profit enterprise, although the church leadership’s goal would be to break even if possible. If necessary, Dwight said, the church would be willing to provide a reasonable amount of support to the café.

According to Dwight, the project would rely on microwaves and small convection ovens to reheat pre-prepared foods, and would not be expected to see numbers even close to the 75 occupants that would be allowed under the CUP. Above all, he insisted, the café would offer “a place for people to gather together, especially after COVID, without the pressure of a commercially driven enterprise.”

But while Dwight described the café as “a ministry that welcomes people in,” those living near the church have made clear the church is already beginning to wear its own welcome thin.

Several residents of the Rivergate neighborhood, which is located directly adjacent to Hope Church, said they are already dealing with significant noise issues stemming from church-related activities, including the use of what they described as bullhorns and “nightclub-style” thumping music.

It has made it impossible to enjoy the tranquility they had been seeking when they moved to the neighborhood, they said, adding that the problem is worse during the fall and winter when there are no leaves on the trees.

“In my opinion the church is more an events space than a church,” said Rob Allen, who lives directly across the street from the church. “They are holding these events in their parking lot. So this restaurant may be serving inside but it may be serving inside while there are events outside that is supporting. So 75 limit? They can count the 1,000 people in the parking lot and say there is only 60 inside and they are still within compliance.”

Allen said he had already called the Sheriff’s Department once, and “I will continue to call them when the noises are too much to bear.”

Ileana Shulman told commissioners that she finds the claim that the church will be selling essentially just “cookies and coffee” difficult to believe, and agreed with several other residents that allowing the café would only exacerbate existing noise issues.

While the ultimate decision on whether to approve the church’s request rests with the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commissioners appeared to hear residents’ concerns loud and clear.

“Obviously there is a great deal of opposition to this,” said District 2 Commissioner Matt Brewer. “I don’t see how we could recommend approval.”

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