Lost but not forgotten, the Sanitation Department will continue to honor and remember their essential workers who perished from COVID-19 with a heartfelt memorial unveiled Thursday.
The morning of May 20 was rife with emotion for those among “New York’s Strongest.” The Sanitation Department never wavered during the COVID-19 pandemic, with its workers out in the streets collecting trash, sweeping roadways and plowing snow as most everyone else socially distanced and stayed home.
Unfortunately, that also meant that some of these essential employees succumbed to the deadly virus.
The NYC Department of Sanitation unveiled the memorial Thursday during a special memorial ceremony outside its Spring Street Salt Shed in Lower Manhattan. The sculpture, entitled “Forever Strongest,” is intended to encapsulate the steadfast dedication of their departed colleagues through the material that commemorates their work.
“It’s forged in steel and is a symbol of our loved one’s strength and fortitude and will continue to serve as an enduring reminder of their patriotic service to this city and our country,” DSNY Commissioner Edward Grayson said.
In addition to the unveiling, the event also looked to remember the nine confirmed COVID-19 fatalities DSNY suffered. Both coworkers and family members gathered to pay their respects. Many in attendance were overcome with emotion, sobbing into tissues at their great loss.
As an additional thanks, family members were asked to step up to the podium where they were presented with medals.
“A facility like this may seem like an unusual location for an event. We store salt across the city, but the storage is special. Often, we just call it a salt shed,” said DSNY Investigator/Trainer Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Evelyn Nieves-Moscol, describing the site as a beautiful piece of architecture, adding, “It’s meaningful that we are honoring all of our colleagues here because earlier this year we unexpectedly lost Michael Friedlander, who spent his entire career as an architect for DSNY. His work has shaped our city, and this is his legacy.”
Approximately 20% of DSNY’s staff wound up testing positive for COVID-19 since March 2020, and while the vaccine rollout has provided reassurance for those still on the job, Grayson also dedicated the hulking sculpture to those who died before testing was readily available.
The statue features a column, vessel, shroud, and a bird sitting upon a rebar-reinforced concrete and was created by Bernard Klevickas, an iron shop worker and machinist. The artist chose to use steel since it represented durability and versatility, reflecting the lives cut short, while the dove is seen providing a shroud of protection on the lost loved one.
“This pandemic has touched virtually every part of this department and every part of New York City. Nearly 2,000 of our colleagues have tested positive for the virus, and as we mourn nine colleagues here today, we also remember the others we lost early on when testing was not readily available,” Grayson said.