LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — On Thursday evening, community members gathered at Long’s Park to remember those who were lost to COVID-19 in Lancaster.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lancaster County lost more than 1,000 lives,” Jackie Concepcion, Union Community Care’s vice president of community impact, said. “Every person we lost was a family member, friend, or neighbor — someone that we knew dearly, someone that we loved, and someone that was lost too soon.”

Thursday’s event, organized by Union Community Care and called “A Day of Healing,” was created to commemorate the lives lost to the coronavirus, to honor frontline workers and healthcare heroes, and to reconnect as a community.

”A lot of the people that lost loved ones to COVID, initially they weren’t able to have funeral services or celebration of life or even be there with them,” Concepcion said. “They had to say their goodbyes through a camera, through a laptop or phone. So I think this is a moment to begin the grieving process.”

Betty Lou Bitzer, who was at A Day of Healing, lost her husband to COVID-19 in April of 2020. 

Betty Lou and her husband, Nick, were married for 41 years. On April 1, 2020, Betty Lou called for an ambulance because Nick had a rising fever and was experiencing shortness of breath.

“He blew me a kiss as he was on the gurney going into the ambulance,” Betty Lou said. That was the last time she saw him in person. He passed away from COVID-19 on April 30.

“I prayed a lot. I’ve cried a lot. Right now, you just have good days and bad days,” Betty Lou said. “Of course, the good memories are what you want to try to keep ahold of, and it makes you laugh.” 

Betty Lou recalled Nick’s humor with a chuckle. “Even though there was 11 years’ difference between us, I never looked at it that way because he didn’t act his age or look it,” she said.

A Day of Healing provided space for people to grieve together and to see that they aren’t going through this experience alone, Betty Lou said.

“We’ve [all] lost something,” Concepcion said. “We’ve lost connections, we lost being out in the community, being with our families, our coworkers, going to a restaurant without a mask, so we’re just beginning to do some of these things that we call ‘normal.’”

Concepcion says the COVID-19 vaccines offer hope for a return to normalcy. She encourages people to get vaccinated and to talk with knowledgeable resources like the people at Union Community Care if they have questions about the vaccines. 

Betty Lou also urges individuals to get vaccinated. “My husband didn’t have the option of getting a vaccine. People now have that option, he didn’t. So to me, what are you waiting for? You need to get that vaccine,” she said.

A Day of Healing included a vaccination booth where community members ages 12 and up could receive their COVID-19 shots. Union Community Care has been working to make the vaccines easily accessible for all community members, and Concepcion said that new people are still getting their vaccines at Union Community Care events.

“Our goal is to have vaccinations available to as many people as possible, as accessible as possible, whether it’s one, two, five people or hundreds of people,” Concepcion said.

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Thursday’s event also featured food trucks, live music, speakers, and the lighting of luminaries in memory of those lost to COVID-19.

In addition to providing space for Lancaster residents to come together and grieve, A Day of Healing aimed to offer hope for community members and to honor the frontline workers who “put their lives at risk to save lives,” Concepcion said.

“Together we are going to heal as a community,” Concepcion said.