Students raising money to plant trees to honor lives lost to COVID-19

NEWTON, Mass. — The numbers are stunning when you step back and think about just how many people died of COVID-19 over the past year.

The city of Newton has lost 188 residents as of late last week.

Now a group of students is leading a project to plant trees in their honor to create a living legacy.

“Trees have been here long before we were here, and they’ll be here long after we’re gone so they’re really a long-lasting memorial,” said Elizabeth Sockwell, a Newton resident who has been finishing her degree from Trinity College at home.

Sockwell thought a memorial was necessary as she watched COVID-19 devastate so many lives.

“Just seeing how this virus was ravaging our country and taking lives far too soon and tragically. I was growing really hopeless and down about it.”

Sockwell has launched the 4C Tree Program through Green Newton. The goal is to raise money to plant a tree in memory of each Newton resident who died of COVID-19.

“We’re working with the city forester. He’s guiding us in terms of where the trees can go. We’re trying to put them around schools, in community areas, along streets,” said Sockwell. “We’re going to create a map of which trees are designated as part of this COVID-19 memorial.”

Bryan Barash lost his best friend Robert Fitzpatrick to COVID-19 early in the pandemic.

Sponsoring a tree in Fitzpatrick’s honor felt right to Barash because his friend loved the outdoors.

A public memorial for all of the COVID victims also feels right to Barash.

“I think people need a way to grieve that’s public, that’s aside from private, because we’re not losing people individually, you know we all do that in our regular lives, but in this case, we’re losing people collectively.”

Sockwell believes this project can honor loved ones while helping the environment for generations to come.

“It’s important because 50 years from now we want to have a memorial, a living memorial, that can remind people of this tragedy and the lives that were lost too soon from COVID-19 and that will also show that the city of Newton came together.”

The 4C Tree Project has already raised more than $20,000.

People can make a $10 donation for the roots of a tree, $25 dollars for a branch, or $150 for the whole tree.

Sockwell is hoping other communities will like this idea and replicate it.