Riverside resident Dan Marrello, who is also a Riverside police officer, helped more than two dozen senior citizens land vaccine appointments through a state police program in Chicago in February. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

A Riverside police officer jumped at an opportunity to vaccinate local residents against COVID-19 last month, landing appointments for more than two dozen people through an Illinois State Police clinic at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Dan Marrello, a Riverside resident who has been a member of the police department for nearly 18 years, acted after receiving a string of emails from the Illinois State Police beginning on Feb. 5. According to the emails, the state police were running a pair of clinics, one at McCormick Place and one in Springfield, through Feb. 19.

At first, the clinics were open only to first responders, but that began to change within days, opening to family members of first responders who qualified for Phase 1B, that is, 65 or older and certain essential workers.

Marrello said his family were no longer living in the area, but within hours of getting the state police email update on Feb. 11, he got another that widened the pool to anyone a first responder knew who qualified for Phase 1B.

The catch? The first responder had to be the one signing up those to be vaccinated.

Marrello said he’d read newspaper articles about how difficult it was for many senior citizens to land appointments on their own, including his own parents, who live in Florida.

I just had the opportunity to help, and I didn’t want to waste it.”

Dan Marrello

They themselves dutifully would logon to their computers at an assigned time only to see appointments disappear in seconds.

“I know it’s difficult,” said Marrello. “I just had the opportunity to help, and I didn’t want to waste it.”

Because Marrello is a first responder, he was also among the first group in the state to receive a vaccine and a sense of relief.

“I feel lucky and fortunate to have received the vaccine early, and it is definitely a weight off of your shoulders,” Marrello said. “I never wanted to find out how the virus might affect me. But knowing that the risk for severe illness with COVID-19 increases with age and assuming how stressful that must be for them, and their family, [that] motivated me to try to help.”

The afternoon he go that final email from the state police, Marrello said he changed into his civilian clothes, grabbed a notebook and immediately walked across the street to ask his neighbor, a woman in her 90s, if she had been vaccinated. She had not. Now she would be.

Marrello took down her information and ran home to enter her information into the system to make an appointment, print out forms and bring them back to his neighbor. He made appointments for six other senior citizens in his neighborhood that same way — one at a time, making sure there were still appointments before seeking out more.

“Because I didn’t know how long appointments would last, I didn’t want to collect names and then have appointments run out,” Marrello said.

He also called Judy Mantel, the executive director of PeopleCare, a Riverside agency that provides services for senior citizens in the area, to see if she could identify anyone wanting a vaccine. According to Mantel, Marrello is a new volunteer with the agency.

She sent Marrello the names of seven more people for whom to make appointments. Mantel herself would end up personally driving several of those people to McCormick Place to get their shots.

Marrello’s family made a trip to Wisconsin over the Valentine’s Day weekend, but Marrello continued to find appointments for those who’d heard about his efforts. In all, Marrello was able to sign up 30 people to be vaccinated before the state police filled every available slot on Feb. 18.

“Dan’s efforts to help our seniors went above and beyond,” said Mantel. “He spent the time it takes to be online, waiting in queue, entering info and then calling to make sure that time would work, then actually booking the appointment. He even did this while he was on a long weekend with his family. Dan was diligent in his heartfelt efforts to help as many seniors as he could, and it paid off with the ones getting the vaccine. The weight off the shoulders of the seniors has given them peace of mind.”

Since then, Marrello said he’s helped one more person find an appointment through Walgreens, an hour-and-a-half effort by itself. He has also reached out to Pillars Community Health to inquire about any clinics they may be running. When they do, Marrello said he’d like to connect more seniors with them.

Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said he was impressed by Marrello’s efforts, which he undertook simply as a Riverside resident and not as part of his duties as a local police officer.

“I am so proud to have an officer work for our agency who would display such kind-heartedness during this pandemic,” said Weitzel in an email. “He did this on his own time and without direction from me.

“He is an extremely compassionate person.”