By Liv Pearson
City of Menifee opens Coronavirus Memorial and Peace Garden at Central park
Ornamental white doves line the tree branches in a Menifee garden, overlooking countless white stones.
There are 153 of them spread across 12 crepe myrtle trees. Each bird, donated by the city’s Alayvilla family, represents a Menifee resident who has died of COVID-19.
Lesa Sobek, mayor pro tem of Menifee, said she heard heartbreaking stories from families who have lost loved ones to the pandemic, as well as stories of relief from those who overcame the virus. The community’s experiences led her to want to do something to show respect toward her constituents.
“The garden is here for anyone who has felt the effects of the virus or is grieving and just needs a place to sit and get some peace,” she said.
The memorial garden was accomplished with the help of local businesses such as Louie’s Nursery and Landscape, which provided a generous donation of stones. The stones were painted white by members of the Menifee community and are left for park visitors to decorate. They are meant to pay homage to loved ones affected by COVID-19 and people who may be dealing with other hardships.
Many of the stones were dedicated to parents and grandparents who have passed away.
“Mama, you were a bright light that will never dim,” reads one stone decorated with a sun, hearts and flowers.
Another, dedicated to a father, is painted gold and black, with the logo of the New Orleans Saints in the center. An angel on a larger stone, painted by artist Linda Morrison, stands upright and looks over the rest.
The city and Menifee’s Interfaith and Community Service Council held an event in early March celebrating the opening and dedication of the peace garden.
“This is a community that cares about each other,” Mayor Bill Zimmerman said. “All of us are hurting. We’ve all lost family members and friends that meant so much to us. This is an opportunity for a community to come together in support of each other.”
The memorial is located at the park’s entrance, next to the fountain. Stones remain available for community members to stop by and paint.
“There are going to be people who come here privately on their own and spend time here, getting that catharsis, that feeling of release and a little bit of closure for some of the personal feelings that they’re having,” Zimmerman said. “This goes on beyond today.”
Sobek likened Menifee to a family as it navigated the struggles of the past year.
“We take budget, we build bridges and we take care of each other,” she said.
A trio of doves was released into the garden during the ceremony. They were unable to catch one of the birds when it was over and it remained in flight over the garden.
Sobek called the remaining bird a symbol of what the memorial stands for.
A video of the dedication can be viewed on the Menifee City Hall Facebook page.