Heartfelt vigil offers ‘closure’ to community center’s loved ones lost in pandemic

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SAN DIEGO — A San Diego community center gathered Monday night to honor all the members and loved ones lost since the start of the pandemic.

Staff at the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center shared the most impacted group there was easily the senior citizens.

“I’ve already had four different senior citizens come up to me telling me this place saved their life,” said Major Robert Birks, pastor and administrator at the center.

About 100 names were read as part of the vigil. With each name, a candle was released into the pool symbolizing each person.

“From 65 to 99 and we started calling just to say, ‘Hi, we care about you. How are you doing?'” Athletics and Member Services Director Andrea Sanford said. “Early on in those phone calls, we started hearing of fellow members who had passed, some from COVID and other ailments as well.”

The center is a place for exercise and socialization, something sorely missed through the bulk of the pandemic.

As the center learned of the loss of members or members losing those close to them, they knew they wanted to do something special.

“We don’t know when there’s going to be an ‘end’ to the pandemic, but people still need to have a sense of closure or just a way to honor their loved ones,” Sanford said.

Because so many are still being impacted by the virus, the majority of members watched the vigil from home. Some could be seen sharing an emotional embrace while remembering those they lost.

“(We’re) just being together and acknowledging pain and praying and hoping for healing,” Birks said.

For anyone who wasn’t able to make it, the Kroc Center will provide a video of the event up on their website.

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