SOMERVILLE, NJ - There were hundreds of cars, a 30-minute procession that drove slowly down Rehill Avenue Friday evening past Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital/Somerset to express their thanks and appreciation to the medical staff on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the hospital staff wearing face masks and dressed in their scrubs stood along the curb at the front entrance of the hospital with "Thank You" signs; many of them waved back to the people inside their cars, while others were shooting videos on their I-Phones.
"God Bless You," Thank you," You're Our Heroes," and similar remarks were made by those in the long line of cars and trucks, many of which flew American flags and had signs attached that thanked the hospital staff. Most of the drivers offered a "thumbs up."
Anthony Cava, president of RWJUH/Somerset said he's never experienced anything like it.
"I think it's (COVID-19) galvanized everyone around the hospital," he said. "It really is beyond words.
The Somerville Hero Parade was organized in less than a week by members of the Somerville Elks and other members of the community. Originally, only 25 cars were expected, according to Elks organizer Pierce Frauenheim. That was before word began to circulate on social media.
Cava thanked the Elks and the community for their support of the staff, noting that several hospital volunteers, individuals and families, restaurant owners, grassroots organizations and others have already donated over $40,000 in food and prepared meals to the hospital staff, with several deliveries daily.
They deserve the appreciation - and more, according to Cava.
"I'm here every day and I'm walking the halls and I see all the wonderful things they are doing," Cava said.
"We are the only acute care hospital in the county and we're here to serve; that's what we're doing," he added.
RWJUH/Somerset has five COVID-19 isolation units and a critical care unit; all the beds are full, according to Cava.
But on a positive note, Cava said patients that have been admitted with COVID-19 have responded to treatment and are being discharged.
"We are seeing patients that get better and are going home," Cava said.