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Westchester County Exec Holds Ceremony To Remember Lives Lost To COVID-19

Westchester County officials and spiritual leaders participated in a ceremony Thursday to honor residents lost to COVID-19. County Executive George Latimer hosted the ceremony at a Ribbons of Remembrance memorial in a county park in Yonkers.

Standing in front of three rows of purple ribbons fluttering in the breeze on a tree and rope structure at Lenoir Nature Preserve in Yonkers, Senior Pastor at the Mount Vernon Heights Congregational Church Reverend Troy Decohen offered prayers.

“One of the saddest things as a pastor that I have witnessed as a result of COVID-19 and the deadliness of this disease was for the many men and women that died, and, the sad thing is, they died alone,” says Reverend Decohen.

He says, at the beginning of the pandemic, family members were not allowed in the hospital rooms with their loved ones. He prayed for families who grieved the loss of their loved ones but could not pay final respects because of the pandemic, and he prayed for frontline workers. Rabbi Evan Hoffman offered prayers with a similar message, adding a prayer for a return to normalcy, to congregate and to do so without shields of protection.

“It was my Jewish community of New Rochelle that was first hit on March 1 of this year when everyone else was still enjoying life as normally as they could and thought they could. I was in quarantine for 14 days with my children,” Rabbi Hoffman says. “The day that I came out, I had my first COVID funeral on the Stony Hills of Mount Eden in Valhalla. And, instead of there being 100 people there, there was one person, me, and the deceased, and the funeral workers.”

He says his father contracted COVID as an ICU physician in March, and survived. Visitors to the preserve on the banks of the Hudson River have been able to take a ribbon and write the name of someone they have lost. The ribbons were then tied to a tree and rope structure for all to see and reflect upon. Given the winter months, the memorial will be moved indoors, to the county office building in White Plains, where the public is still free to add names. Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Ben Boykin:

“2020 has been a year of grievous loss — loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of an opportunity, loss of time, but for each Westchester resident who has come to this memorial to hang a ribbon, as you see over my back, that loss has been incalculable,” Boykin says. “Each ribbon here represents a loved one — a mother, a father, a child, a sibling, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, a friend, some cherished person whose life was cut short by COVID-19.”

Latimer says it is sobering to think that one year ago, many of those who have since died from COVID-19 were celebrating the holidays.

“And they celebrated New Year’s Eve just like you and I celebrated New Year’s Eve, in whatever context that was, and they toasted to the new year 2020 with hopes and expectations,” says Latimer. "They were with us during Valentine’s Day but, beginning about March 1, we started to lose them. And now, with the fatalities just of last night, we’re well over 1,500 Westchester residents and over 270,000 Americans and worldwide, a larger number than that.”

Imam Qari Amjad Karim is with the Westchester Muslim Center.

“Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another,” says Imam Qaru Amjad.

Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins represented the area containing Lenoir Preserve when he served as county legislator.

“At this moment in time, it’s a great opportunity for us to remember how we can all get through this together because the Ribbons of Remembrance are a tie for all of us to bind,” says Jenkins.

Latimer spoke of Glenn Bellitto, an Eastchester Town Councilman who died from COVID in April. Latimer says they shared the same dentist and could be found in the waiting room complaining about having to go to the dentist. Latimer says he joined Bellitto at the annual Christmas tree lighting in Eastchester last year.

“And Glenn and I joked, we joked how heavy both of us had become, and we agreed to chat at some point in time about a particular issue that involved Eastchester and the county,” Latimer says." And we said we would see each other, probably meet to get a bite to eat at the diner and talk about it, a day that never came.”

He says many died before communities knew the importance of mask-wearing and social distancing.

“But the most important thing, even as we talk about the vaccine that’s coming, the economic need to improve our businesses because of this pandemic as we talk about which zone will get us there and testing in schools, is that we remember those that have died,” Latimer says. “And it is a scar to talk about COVID and not remember the people who died.”

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