Monty Folks Light the Way Forward at a COVID-19 Hope and Healing Event
By Melanie Zhang l September 27, 2021
Montgomery community members came together at Princeton Elks Lodge in Skillman on September 20 to reflect on the pandemic and look to the future ahead. Many contributed art and stories, and participated in a candlelight vigil.
As travel resumes, and schools and businesses reopen, pre-pandemic normalcy is returning. However, Montgomery Deputy Health Officer Devangi Patel says: “Everyone has been so isolated, we haven’t had a chance to process the pain and suffering experience by many members of our community."
Planned by the Montgomery Health Department, "Montgomery Together: Lighting the Way Forward – An Evening of Hope & Healing" featured art from local residents, with the theme of healing.
For Belle Mead resident Cindy Hamer, quarantine meant she "did a lot of jigsaw puzzles” with her daughter, who was home from college. Photographed and assembled together, her "Pandemic Puzzles" art entry is a testament to family bonds.
"Starting in March 2020, jigsaw puzzles became a pandemic obsession for me and my daughter," Hamer says. "The time we spent laboriously working on 1,000-piece puzzles was so precious, but it was was much more than that. As we sheltered in our house dodging COVID-19, puzzles gave us something we could control during a time when so much was out of our control. They also set us on a course of prevailing over challenges.
"A few times when we got down to the last piece, and realized it was missing, a feeling of being out of control crept in. But, low and behold, the piece was usually found in the shag rug n our family room. Phew!"
"How ironic that it was our 2020 puzzle that was missing a piece — not in the rug! Clearly, indicative of how challenging 2020 was," Hamer concluded.
Montgomery artist Zoe Olenick was unable to purchase canvases in stores during quarantine, so she turned to recycled CDs instead.
A greater appreciation for everyday things was a common sentiment expressed in the community art project, where visitors were invited to share things they gained during the pandemic. Nearby, posters prompted viewers to consider how they coped with new difficulties, what issues they saw in the community due to the pandemic, and what activities they missed out on.
While things like prayer and cooking made things easier, many commented on the sense of isolation. Former Skillman mailman, Rich Shea, said there would be funerals with “only the pastor there,” and others wrote that they missed seeing loved ones.
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This event allowed attendees to “feel a sense of community” again, says Montgomery resident Celine LaBelle. “We haven’t had those opportunities.” Still, she says that the pandemic is far from over, and the future of “normalcy” is not entirely certain.
Beyond a celebration of the community’s resilience and hope for the future, the event was also a time to reflect on all that has been lost. Before the evening’s candlelight vigil, Montgomery Township Committeewoman Neena Singh encouraged everyone to appreciate the mundane moments of peace and joy lost to the pandemic.
As the sun set, Harlingen Church Rev. Christopher Heitkamp urged folks to take a moment to acknowledge all they have lost and all of the changes that have come to pass, in order to move forward. While attendees passed their flames from candle to candle to light up the darkness together, Heitkamp remarked that it will take "our entire community coming together for us to heal."