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2 Pieces, A Pepper And Pandemic Protection: South Dallas Restaurant Looks To Fight Vaccine Hesitancy

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - In South Dallas, the words "two pieces and a pepper" need no explanation.

Now, "protecting yourself and your community during a deadly pandemic" can be added as well. Call it a "tasty" new enticement to get a COVID-19 vaccine, complements of the Williams Chicken location on Robert B. Cullum.

"I've been hesitating about it... but now, I'm ready to get it done," promises customer Anthony Mester while grabbing lunch today at the restaurant pick-up window. Mester says he will be first in line at the South Dallas location on Saturday. "I need the shot, but the free meal? I'd like to get that, too."

Whatever works.

"Come out, come out -- get you a shot and get you a two piece!" says Williams Chicken Director of Operations Tim Williams with a chuckle. Williams -- no relation to the chain's founder, Hiawatha Williams -- says it's just another way their founder is looking to serve and protect loyal customers.

"We're asking you to trust in us," said Williams. "Believe in us that it's okay to take a COVID-19 shot. If you take a COVID-19 shot, we're also going to give you a free meal."

So on Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., customers who agree to get a COVID-19 vaccine, will walk away with a free meal at the Williams Chicken location near Fair Park. It's a partnership between the restaurant chain, the Catalyst Health Network -- who will administer the vaccines -- and Project Unity.

"At Project Unity, we leverage everything that brings people together and food is one of those things that bring people together," says Project Unity founder Richie Butler. "So if we need to have a piece of chicken and talk about your fears around the vaccine, let's do that so we can get some people vaccinated."

According to the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation -- also known as PCCI -- several neighborhoods in Dallas have vaccination rates at or near 80%. But, in 75210 -- the area surrounding the restaurant's Fair Park location -- the level of vaccine protection falls to 26.37%.

"I don't have to go read about it. I don't have to research it, we live it, and I've lived it as a Pastor," shares Butler, "and that's part of the mandate for why we're focused on getting people vaccinated."

He knows firsthand that vaccine hesitancy in the community is real. And he also admits to the frustration of knowing that an area that has been hit hard by the coronavirus would still be so reluctant to take advantage of a vaccine that could offer protection from the deadly consequences. Nevertheless, he says frustration won't be the final word: advocates are continuing to work.

"We were doing a vaccination site today," shares Butler, "someone drove up and they were afraid to get vaccinated because of misinformation. I mean there's a lot of bad information out there. So we literally had to walk them through. We invited the pastor to come out and pray with them and they finally decided to get vaccinated. But it took prayer and information for them to get a shot."

The next Williams Chicken pop-up clinic is scheduled for July 24 at the West Illinois & Bonnie View location. A third is planned for August at the original location on Ledbetter and Sunnyvale.

"They have trusted us for 30 years," says Williams. "They have shopped with us for 30 years, and I hope that our customers believe that we wouldn't do anything to put them in harm's way."

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