LOS ANGELES — In early April of 2020, more than 5,000 Americans were reported to have died from COVID-19. Today, it's over 500,000 people.
While the statistics are black and white, a California teenager is reminding the world each person is more than a number.
"Because when you make it a number or a statistic, it kind of takes away the fact that these were human beings that existed and lived and had lives," said 14-year-old Madeleine Fugate.
Fugate wanted to remember each person by how they lived, not by how they died. For a 7th grade project at The Buckley School, she wanted to make a quilt honoring each person.
“What I get from this, I feel these people are no longer being thought of as being numbers, but more so as real people and faces," said Fugate.
People around the world started sending her memorial squares, often accompanied with a letter about the person they lost.
“I fought in Nazi Germany, I was a teacher, I was somebody’s soulmate. Just the amount of soulmates, that word, I lost my soulmate," said Madeleine's mother, Katherine.
Madeleine's teacher, Wendy Wells, is helping her piece the quilt together.
“This was someone’s handkerchief, which we will trim and make into a square. This one says, please remember the love of my life for 59 years, my soulmate who passed away on Dec. 12, 2020," said Wells. “We are finding a release for ourselves and our own losses and pain in making this and helping other people."
The patchwork of stories share a common thread that's more than a virus.
“I lost my hero, my dad Frank Cervantes, to COVID in November 2020. My dad was young, 75 years old. He was a single father of three," Katherine reads from a letter. “I don’t know how to design a quilt square, so I hope you can design a square for him. Because it is true, my dad is not a statistic. My dad is not a number. He is Frank Cervantes."
For Katherine, the pandemic brought back painful memories of another virus.
“I was in my 20s in the ‘80s. And that was viewed as, well, it’s just one group, it’s the gay disease. It didn’t even have a name.”
She helped create the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a living memorial dedicated to a generation of people taken by the disease. Katherine told stories of her own friends through the colorful panels.
“My mom told me how she had worked on the AIDS quilt and how it was a really healing and almost magical experience that really helped her through that time, and so I just kind of looked at her and said, well let’s do that again, a COVID quilt," said Madeleine.
Panels of the COVID Memorial Quilt will be on display in museums around the country. Madeleine will add on to it as long as the patches come in.
“We really just want to get as many of these as possible, because I really want to remember every single person that has died from COVID," said Madeleine.
How to send a memorial square:
- Send 8 inch x 8 inch memorial squares or any materials to have a memorial square made for you to:
- COVID MEMORIAL QUILT3940 Laurel Canyon Blvd #443 Studio City, CA 91604
- To send photos or digitally made memorial Squares, email: CovidMemorialQuilt@gmail.com
They ask people to consider adding a note about the person they lost to COVID-19.
You can make donations to help with materials and travel costs.