The ribbon memorial at People’s United Methodist Church in South Portland is entering its second year. Doreen Gay photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — The world has experienced an avalanche of sorrow and loss during the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A year ago, People’s United Method Church in South Portland began attaching cloth strips to the railings at the church’s meeting hall entrance. Each ribbon memorializes a Mainer who has died due to COVID-19.

The church started with fewer than 100 ribbons and eventually was adding ribbons daily as the deaths began to rise in Maine. Doreen Gay, a member of the church and on the board of trustees, requested the church hand railings where the ribbons hung to be weighted for safety reasons due to the number of ribbons.

“The ribbons have taken over the handrail and as of Jan.5, I think there were 1,582 strips,” said Gay.

People’s United Methodist Church in South Portland has set up a ribbon memorial representing each person in Maine who has died from COVID-19. Doreen Gay photo

The idea for the ribbons came from Pastor Thomas Frey, who was inspired by a similar display at the Pleasant Street United Methodist Church in Waterville.  

On Jan. 12, 2021, there were 438 COVID related deaths in Maine, according to the Maine CDC. A year later, as of Jan. 10, that number had risen to 1,603. The collection of ribbons has become overwhelming and emotional to see, said Gay and the other followers of the church. The members of the church hope that the memorial makes people stop and think about the losses and the importance of staying safe during this time.  The memorial display is a part in raising awareness of taking necessary health precautions in the face of COVID. 

“This is still so relevant in our community that every life lost represents someone’s loved one,” Gay said. “It’s just not a number. We hope that when people see this display the importance of remembering the lives lost. The ribbons are only a reminder, but we need to stay vigilant while not living in fear. But we need to be mindful that this is somebody’s grandmother, someone’s father or mother, some one’s brother and some one’s sister.

“These are people and so many dying needlessly, and I think that is what is so emotional to me that so many are dying needlessly. It feels overwhelming when you see the mass of all the ribbons. I remember thinking when the 300 were on the door was huge never realizing that another whole year later and so many more.”

Members of the church, including Gay, hope that people make it a point to go to the church to see the ribbons and come together as a community while keeping those who have passed in their thoughts as world battles to get through the pandemic. The church comes together each week, Gay said, “to pray for those who are on the frontlines, including EMT, fire and police, nurses, doctors and everyone who is in the medical field and want them all to know that they are supported.” 

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