LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- An estimated 1,937 unclaimed individuals who died in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic were laid to rest Thursday.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, along with the Department of Health Services, Office of Decedent Affairs and the Los Angeles General Medical Center Chaplains, held a non-denominational interfaith burial ceremony Thursday for the county's unclaimed dead at the L.A. County Cemetery.
"We don't know enough about the people we are burying here today to really do them justice," Supervisor Janice Hahn said during the ceremony. "But we know many of them were unhoused. Some are children. Some were immigrants to this country, far from families who loved and missed them. Almost all of them were very poor."
She added, "For one reason or another, they had no loved ones who could claim their bodies when they passed."
Hahn recognized the pain, disappointment and loneliness these individuals were likely to have felt.
In a solemn moment, Hahn recognized that most people can understand the same loneliness and isolation these individuals felt because of the pandemic -- to be separated from home as health orders advised everyone to stay apart.
"We recognize that while we cannot go back and make their lives better, they are in a more peaceful place," Hahn said. "We can rededicate ourselves to everyone for the many people who need us while we still can."
Supervisor Hilda Solis recognized that the pandemic impacted vulnerable communities and were the hardest hit.
Local faith leaders presided over the burial of decedents in a single communal grave, offering a "compassionate opportunity" to pay respects to individuals who died as a result of the challenges of the pandemic.
The Ceremony of the Unclaimed Dead was open to the public.
Since 1896, the ceremony has paid homage to those who have died but remain unclaimed. The Office of Decedent Affairs manages cremation and burial for indigent/unclaimed individuals who die within the county's jurisdiction.
These individuals may be homeless or have no next of kin. There is a three-year waiting period between the year of death and burial to allow family members to claim cremated remains.
Shortly before the ceremony, ashes are placed in a single communal grave with a marker indicating the year of cremation.
The Office of Decedent Affairs works with families to facilitate remains retrieval before burial.
Christina Ghaly, director of the county's Department of Health Services, expressed her gratitude for a small team working at L.A. General Medical Center, which identifies and connects families to their deceased loved ones.
"But for these 1,937 people, for a variety of reasons, that wasn't possible," Ghaly said.
She added, "I'm so grateful that we can honor these individuals and honor them in burial."