A day to honor and remember the lives lost to COVID-19 in Queens, organized by the volunteer-led organization Queens COVID Remembrance Day (QCRD), will be held on Saturday, May 1.
The vigil will take place at Forest Park’s Bandshell in Woodhaven from 1 to 8 p.m.
The day will feature several tributes for the more than 9,300 Queens residents who have died due to COVID-19, including a Queens Residents Memorial. The memorial will showcase 400 empty benches — each bearing the name and image of a community member lost to the virus — that are custom made by a 16-year-old artist, Hannah, who is based in New Jersey.
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The memorial ceremony will begin with an interfaith prayer and words of remembrance from Queens residents who lost loved ones to COVID-19 at 1 p.m. This hourlong segment will be limited to 200 people in accordance with state and city guidelines, with free tickets available beginning on April 14 to encourage safety measures. It will also be livestreamed on QCDR’s social media platforms.
The event will then open to the public from 2 to 8 p.m., with no tickets required. The space will be surrounded with yellow hearts, supplied by The Yellow Heart Memorial, bearing the names of those lost to COVID-19 from around the world.
The day will also feature an original floral art piece made by Floral Heart Project artist Kristina Libby, as well as an essential worker tribute.
The QCDR was conceived by a committee of about 15 Queens community members, all of whom lost family members and friends to the virus in the past year.
Brian Walter, a resident of Middle Village, is one of the organizers of the event. He lost his 80-year-old father to COVID in May 2020, but wasn’t able to properly mourn him with a wake or funeral due to stringent guidelines at the time.
Walter said his father, John, was a lifelong resident of Middle Village and even received a proclamation from state Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. two years ago for living in the same ZIP code his whole life.
“My father’s big adventure was moving from one side of Metropolitan Avenue to the other,” Walter recalled.
Walter said that after speaking at the National COVID Remembrance Day in October that was held in Washington, D.C., friends he’d made through the COVID loss community online said they needed to bring it to Queens — which became the “epicenter of the epicenter” at the height of the pandemic.
Walter said they have since received an outpouring of support from non-COVID groups and elected officials, particularly from Addabbo and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar.
“It’s taken us to places we never imagined,” he said. “Finally, our loved ones, who have been minimized to just a statistical number, are getting what they deserve.”
Addabbo and Rajkumar, whose respective districts represent parts of central Queens, will be presenting the group with a resolution from New York state to honor QCDR’s selfless work and dedication.
“The work that the Queens COVID Remembrance Day group put into this event is extraordinary and heartfelt,” Addabbo said. “I am proud to be able to work with this amazing group to try and help bring some closure and peace to the loved ones of victims of the COVID-19 virus, while honoring the memories of those that we lost right here in our borough of Queens.”
Rajkumar said it’s her privilege to work with QCDR, who exemplify “resilience, strength and hope in the face of tragic loss.”
“On this day, I have asked the legislative body of New York state to pause in its deliberations to remember all those we lost to COVID-19 in Queens and around the world,” Rajkumar said.
So far, QCDR has received about 206 submissions from Queens residents to be included on the empty benches and about 500 for the yellow hearts that will surround the Bandshell.
Walter and the lawmakers encourage anyone who has lost a loved one to COVID, in Queens or around the world, and would like to be included in the memorial ceremony to visit their website at queenscovidremembranceday.com/submit-a-loved-one. They also encourage submissions for the essential workers tribute, at queenscovidremembranceday.com/essential-workers-tribute.
For more information, visit QCDR’s website at www.queenscovidremembranceday.com.