For the first time in recent memory, Lawrence Township has canceled its annual Memorial Day parade.
The decision to cancel the parade was made in part for safety reasons, to protect the health and safety of participants and spectators alike, township officials said.
Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said canceling the parade was a disappointing decision to make, but one that was not very difficult because of the unprecedented pandemic of COVID-19.
“Protecting the health and safety of the community and our employees cannot – and should not – be compromised for a parade, no matter how desperately a community may need it emotionally or mentally,” Nerwinski said.
While some residents questioned whether the April 22 decision was made too early, Nerwinski said it was not done prematurely. Much time, effort and manpower goes into planning the Memorial Day parade, he said.
“These events are not just about designating a date, time and location, and we all show up. It takes a lot of work and organization, both by the event planners and the groups that participate,” he said.
The Memorial Day parade is co-sponsored by Lawrence Township, American Legion Post 414, the 112th Field Artillery Association and the Lawrence Township Patriotic Committee.
Planning for the Memorial Day parade takes at least two months, Nerwinski said. “It is simply not an option” nor is it reasonable to wait until the last minute to decide whether to hold the parade because of all the planning that goes into it, he said.
Nerwinski said that “unfortunately but understandably,” the township has received very few commitments from people, clubs and other organizations that traditionally take part in the Memorial Day parade.
Boy Scout troops, Girl Scout troops, veterans organizations, soldiers and sailors, emergency first responders, youth sports groups and school groups have marched in the parade from Lawrence High School on Princeton Pike to Darrah Lane, Birchwood Knoll and into Veterans Park for a short ceremony and refreshments.
Newinski expressed reluctance to have police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians gather together to participate in the parade and risk their health and safety. Doing so could jeopardize their ability to serve the community when they are most needed if they become ill, he said.
The Memorial Day parade is all about community – a gathering together of residents, clubs, associations, musical bands, vendors and military veterans, Nerwinski said. But to allow such an event to take place, given what is known of the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 disease “would be irresponsible, in my opinion,” he said.
“As much as we want to re-open and return to some normalcy, I think it is most appropriate to be guided by our trusted health professionals to fight this virus with common sense decision-making,” he said. “We can live through disappointment, but some of us may not live through the coronavirus.”
Nerwinski assured residents that there will be a point in time when they may come together to celebrate the community again with parades and events, but only when it is safe to do so.
“We will appreciate those moments and events so much more, now that we have had them taken away from us this year,” he said. “For now, let’s be smart, protect ourselves and by doing so, limit the risk that we put our healthcare workers in who have been providing care and comfort to those of us that are sick or dying from this virus. We will figure out a safe way to honor those that have served in our military.”