JOHNSTOWN, PA – Donna LaMonaca hasn’t gotten much sleep lately, but she isn’t complaining and neither are the more than 60 senior citizens who she has spent her nights registering for their vaccine appointments.
LaMonaca, a Supervisory Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Officer at Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, assisted some of her elderly relatives get appointments for their COVID-19 vaccines because they didn’t have computers. Afterward they asked if she could also help some of their friends get appointments.
LaMonaca, who has been generous of her free time in finding creative ways to support her community during the pandemic, agreed to help, and during the last three weeks has already scored more than 50 vaccine appointments for senior citizens who are in the 1A vaccine category, mostly strangers who reached out to her through word of mouth because they don’t have computers or email to be able to sign up for the limited number of appointments available in their communities.
LaMonaca sets an alarm for 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 a.m., because she’s discovered those are the times that several vaccination sites, including local pharmacies, are posting available appointment time slots. She lines up the family computer, laptop, three cell phones and three tablets—eight devices in all—logs onto the vaccine appointment sites and enters the personal information of the seniors who have reached out to her. She then hits the refresh buttons over and over and over again. “I might refresh 100 times in two minutes,” she says. The appointments are gobbled up quickly.
She says that she understands that many seniors are not able to secure an appointment without help. “I’m computer savvy, I can type fast and I’ll get up” in the middle of the night when the appointments are posted online, she says. An 18-year veteran of TSA, she takes naps after her shift at the airport to catch up on her sleep.
Most of the individuals who LaMonaca is registering for their appointments are seniors who had their contact information passed along to her. “I write down their information on sticky notes” and affix the notes all around her computer screen. “The list is fairly fluid,” she says.
“A lot of the seniors who I’ve helped give me a phone number of a friend,” LaMonaca explains. “They are usually high-risk seniors, maybe someone who has cancer. I get them an appointment and I drive some of them to their appointments when I have the day off. I’ve driven the two hours to Pittsburgh probably five times” after she has gotten someone an appointment in the city.
For seniors closer to Johnstown, LaMonaca will print out the appointment confirmation and personally hand deliver it to that individual because they often don’t have a computer for email access.
“I’m happy to help. One woman called me afterward. She was so happy she had her vaccines because she said she could finally see her grandchildren and give them their Christmas gifts,” she says.
Early on during the pandemic, LaMonaca was volunteering for a local food bank and discovered that there were children in nearby neighborhoods who were hungry. She started to deliver meals to their neighborhood and supplemented by buying Happy Meals and pizzas until schools reopened and those children could get meals at school.
“I always tell my kiddos we are all not in the same boat, we are in the same river. But everyone has a different boat and even though you may think you have a nice boat, you never know when you may need something as simple as a raft. So help everyone when you can no matter what,” LaMonaca says.
Her children take in her philosophical advice and she credits her 13-year-old son with helping her snag appointments online and then helping out with vaccination appointments. “He comes with me when we take people,” she says. “He uses a checklist of what they need to bring such as photo ID, insurance card, and he helps them fill out paperwork before we get there to speed up the process. He's a good egg and he's putting a lot into this too. It's sweet to see him walk the older ladies in” for their appointments and “help them with their coats, and sit and talk with them while we wait.”
After their vaccines, LaMonaca usually stops to take the seniors out for ice cream. “It’s so awesome to see the anxiety about going out finally start to subside a little bit,” she says.
“Donna has a big heart and a genuine compassion for others,” said Karen Keys Turner, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the region. “Her dedication to her community is admirable. She serves as a role model for her fellow TSA officers because she is someone who leads by example. I’m sure she has instilled in her children these same values of the importance of stepping up and giving of your time and energy to help others in need.”