BELLE GLADE — Officials from the tri-cities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay gathered Friday, Oct. 29, to remember those lost to COVID-19 and give thanks for the many community members, businesses and organizations who helped the people of the Glades during the pandemic. The Lomax Harrelle Pavilion on Torry Island was decorated with a Fall theme for the annual Mayor & Commissioners VIP Luncheon. Members of the mostly-masked crowd couldn’t help but break into spontaneous hugs for those they had not seen in a while, and shed some tears for those lost to the deadly virus.
“Despite the evils of the world, there are still a lot of good people who make this world a wonderful place to be,” said Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson.
“This year was a little different,” said Wilson. “People we saw just yesterday, we’re saying good-bye to today.
“We;re going to get through this because of partnership and friendship,” Wilson said.
“Working together, we achieve a lot more,” said Dr. Robert Rease, Belle Glade city manager.
“This community has had to experience a lot within the past two years,” said Tammy Jackson-Moore, of Guardians of the Glades. “When we were in the midst of COVID-19, some members of the community were experiencing food insecurity.
Working with the mayors and city managers from the tri-cities, they were able to feed the community, she said. Palm Beach County came to the tri-cities’ aid she continued. Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay went back to the board about the suffering in the Glades, Jackson-Moore continued. “We appealed for those funds and were awarded nearly half a million dollars to continue with food distribution in our communities,” she explained.
In addition to distributing food, Florida Community Health Center also provided covid testing.
“When it was time to get shots in people’s arms, not only did Florida Department of Health stand up, but Palm Beach County Health Care District also stood up for the people of the Glades,” Jackson-Moore continued. In addition to the vaccination site set up at Anquan Boldin Stadium, Palm Beach State College also provided the opportunity for a vaccination pod to allow more people around the lake to be vaccinated.
Jackson-Moore also thanked the funeral home directors who were overwhelmed due to the pandemic.
She thanked the members of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department who took the time to check on community members, in addition to their regular duties keeping everyone safe.
“PBSO was with us from the beginning, helping at food distribution, delivering food to families, giving people information about vaccinations,” she said.
She also thanked Florida Representatives Tina Polsky and Kelly Skidmore for their efforts in providing help to the Glades area.
“During covid, we had children who needed to be cared for, and the Boys and Girls Club stood up to make sure that continued to happen,” she said.
“The business community was right there, everyday,” she said. Members of the agriculture community made sure there was fresh local produce for the food distribution sites.
Jackson-Moore thanked Career-Source for continuing to provide training and help with job placement throughout the pandemic. She thanked the Palm Beach County School officials for their efforts to keep children safe while continuing to educate them. She thanked the pastors for their support and their prayers.
“Covid relief workers have been on the ground every single day taking care of people in the community,” Jackson-Moore continued. Grass roots community support was also working alongside the other efforts.
“The COVID-19 virus variant came to our nation. The virus attacked our nation. It made all of us fall to our knees,” said Rev. Leslie D. Camel. He said people ask God to let them get to a new normal, but those who lost loved ones to the virus will never be able to get back to normal.
The COVID-19 virus was like nothing local health officials had dealt with before, said Karen Harris of the Palm Beach County Health Care District. She said Lakeside Medical Center had more patients than beds. Medical staff was overwhelmed. At one point the emergency department had a 9-hour wait.
“With the help of county officials, we were able to make things happen,” she said. A registered nurse was stationed outside the center to screen patients and help them get the care they needed.
“There is still work to do,” she said. In Belle Glade, about 55% of the eligible population has been vaccinated. In Pahokee, the vaccination rate is around 45%; in South Bay, 41%. She said they need to continue to spread the message: Trust the Facts. Get the Vax.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay thanked the farmers, who despite losing almost half a billion dollars in revenue due to the pandemic still participated in the food distribution programs. The farmers also worked with officials to make sure farm workers had the opportunity to be vaccinated before they left the area. They are now making sure seasonal farmworkers coming to Florida have the opportunity to be vaccinated.
She also thanked Hendry County and Okeechobee County officials for standing up for help to the rural communities.
“This very small community in the Glades had 6,000 covid cases,” she said, and more than 140 people died.
McKinlay gave a special thanks to Alicia Wilson, who spoke to the media about the six members of her family who died from covid. “She saved lives by sharing her story,” said McKinlay.
The memorial ended with the lighting of three candles, to represent the communities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay, and the releasing of three doves to honor the lives lost in each community.