DJ’s Pharmacy is a locally owned, independent pharmacy located in Cary. Co-owners Dr. Jin Lee and Dr. Alfred Catolico opened in July of 2020. While they never imagined making their dream a reality in the middle of a pandemic, it has given them an opportunity to realize their vision of a neighborhood pharmacy that values relationships and customer experience above all else.
DJ’s Pharmacy began vaccinating community members in mid-February. “I wanted to be part of protecting our community,” Dr. Lee explains, “give them a better and more easily accessible pharmacy.” Once the majority of his local community had been vaccinated, he began exploring where he could continue to have an impact. In one of those personal conversations he tends to have with his customers, he learned that one of them was a volunteer with Episcopal Farmworker Ministry. This conversation, paired with the communications he was receiving from NC DHHS about vulnerable populations, inspired him to reach out to farmworker health agencies. He connected with Lariza Garzón of Episcopal Farmworker Ministry and soon realized he could fill a need by helping with vaccination events and pop-up clinics.
Garzón expressed how grateful she is to both Dr. Lee and Dr. Catolico. “They take their own time to help us vaccinate this vulnerable community,” she said. “They treat every single person with respect and care. They are an example and inspiration to all of us and give us hope.”
Dr. Lee was initially discouraged to see that most State contracts were going to larger chain pharmacies. He soon realized, though, that this didn’t have to be a barrier to getting out into the community to support vaccination efforts. He was also able to be flexible and meet farmworkers when and where they needed services. For example, one afternoon he received a call that due to being rained out at work, farmworkers were unexpectedly available to get vaccinated. He was able to go out to help with a pop-up vaccination event.
“They’re harvesting the food we consume,” he says, “and we don’t really think about that. They are far from home for many months, working far from their families. Keeping a healthy body is so important. If you’re sick you can’t work, if you can’t work, you can’t make money.”
Dr. Lee’s concern for his community is evident in all he does. Dulce Arroyo, NCFHP COVID-19 Response Team, shared that “Dr. Lee has always been people-focused. He puts the people at the center of his work and works around the obstacles to address the need, and that’s what has made working with him more personable and such a profound experience.”
Dr. Lee hopes to see more independent pharmacies involved in vaccination efforts. “I’ve been talking to independent owners and they are interested in getting involved,” he explained. “But they aren’t sure how to. I was lucky because I was able to communicate with Lariza. I think we can have a major impact in under-served communities. If we can bring awareness to areas of need, it might bring more focus for the independent pharmacies.”
Dr. Lee is an example of just how much impact a brand-new, independent pharmacy can have when there are dedicated, community-focused people behind it. Keith Ng, Ernst & Young consultant for the NCFHP COVID-response efforts, said, “Dr. Lee has been an integral part of vaccinating hundreds of farmworkers in the southeastern part of North Carolina. We cannot thank him and his team enough for his passion, support, and flexibility to ensure individuals in this community have ample access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Learn more about DJ’s Pharmacy by visiting the website: www.djspharmacy.com