As we welcome 2021 to be a year of hope, we should take one last moment to reflect on the unique, challenging and sometimes heartbreaking year that was 2020.
COVID-19 has made our world and our lives significantly different. In Voorhees Township last year, our community saw 1,583 cases of the coronavirus. Sadly, our community lost 132 precious lives to this invisible enemy.
I have always been proud to say that Voorhees rises to the occasion in emergent times. Our response to this pandemic has been no exception.
In spite of the dangers they faced, with proper safety precautions, our police, fire and EMS seamlessly continued their missions of protecting and serving our community. The VTPD established the Person in Need Task Force which made contact on a regular basis with over 3,000 of our most vulnerable residents to make sure they had food, prescriptions, social services referrals and even pet food and pet care. With very little fanfare, Police Chief Louis Bordi became President of the New Jersey Police Chiefs Association, a well-deserved honor.
Our Department of Public Works continued to provide efficient services without question or pause. Their jobs became even more challenging because the amount of our trash and recyclables increased by 25% since more people were staying at home.
Our employees in Town Hall continued to provide uninterrupted municipal services with appropriate safety protocols. Initially, services were provided remotely, then we merged into a hybrid municipal service system. We then became the first Town Hall in Camden County to open to the public.
The pandemic robbed our community of many of our popular events, including our Summer Series, Halloween in the Park, National Night Out, the Police Foundation Car Show, International Day, our Citizens and Junior Police Academies and our Veteran’s Wall Ceremony. We did our best to provide some normalcy through several drive-in movies at the Town Center, a virtual Santa Arrival and Tree Lighting, a Celebration of Lights and Home Decorating Contest over the holidays and an Elf on the Shelf contest. The Voorhees Arts Council even offered a Virtual Museum for the enjoyment of our residents from their homes.
I have always said that I believe teaching is the most noble of all professions and am particularly proud that my son is a teacher. The dedication of our teachers and educators was never more apparent than this past year. They have been asked to instruct our children virtually, in-person and sometimes a combination of both on very short notice. They have adapted their traditional teaching methods and continued to do their best to educate and engage with our children. One particular teacher, Christine Blizzard-Wrobel, a STEM instructor at Voorhees Middle School, designed and printed over 1,000 face shields and mask extenders for the protection of the dedicated workers at Virtua.
One group of unsung heroes through this pandemic has been our students, from kindergarten through college. They have been deprived of personal interaction with teachers and friends alike. They have been robbed of sports, theater, field trips, class trips, proms and traditional graduations. Sadly, they have been robbed of the chance to make once-in-a-lifetime memories that can never be replaced. Yet, they have persevered.
Our Township Committee, in cooperation with the Voorhees Arts Council, honored our 2020 graduates of all levels with a graduation mural on the wall adjacent to Town Hall. The project was funded through private donations to the Voorhees Citizens Event Foundation. Graduates were given an opportunity to take pictures with their loved ones to help memorialize this special time in their lives.
The tragic death of George Floyd led to a national outcry against social injustice. In spite of the pandemic and with proper safety precautions, several peaceful protests, vigils and rallies were held in our community. It was particularly gratifying that most of these events were organized by the young people in our town.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the “Notorious RBG,” ignited a tidal wave of outcry for gender equality. Though she was a woman small in stature, RBG was a fierce warrior for this cause.
The pandemic changed the manner in which most of us have conducted business. Virtual meetings and conferences have become the new norm. With the approval of the state, last year I officiated 33 virtual weddings, allowing loved ones from all over the state, country and world to enjoy the special occasion.
Last year, we held an election unlike any other in the history of our country. While each state determined their own election protocols, in New Jersey the general election was conducted primarily by Vote-By-Mail (VBM) Ballots. The voter participation was the highest in the history of our country.
Thank you for allowing me the privilege of serving as your Mayor in 2020. I will again embrace the honor in 2021. Our Township Committee will continue to work hard to keep our community safe. Please wear a mask, respect social distancing guidelines and get the vaccine. This ugly pandemic has made our community stronger and we will get through it together. We are six feet apart, but closer than ever.