BY GAIL M. GRABOWSKI
Back in January, while we were bemoaning our post-holiday girth or enjoying the calm of post-holiday celebrations, little did we know that this calm preceded a storm that was about to change life as we knew it.
Some changes we could see: shuttered businesses and school closings; others we could feel: no work, no paycheck. And some we feared: sickness and dying. But for some, the change was invisible. It was the pain of losing loved ones to COVID-19.
To help with the healing, Dorothy Stepnowska, owner of Flower Power Coffee House NYC and founder and president of the Glendale Queens Chamber of Commerce, created the Flower Wall Memorial at Myrtle Avenue and Fresh Pond Road.
She hosted a memorial ceremony at the site on October 16. This unique memorial, which remained on display until October 23, was designed by Stepnowska and created with the help of small businesses owners Dana Scaccalossi of The Caffein8d Crafter, Lydia Linares of Creativity Comes Naturally, and Kovalenko Lioudmila, a floral designer.
Together, they cut colorful paper petals and fashioned them into large, stylized flowers. The flowers were mounted on a board and framed a quote by Harlem-based poet, Hattress Barbour. Solar lights were woven throughout the wall for nighttime viewing.
“I was amazed at how much help I received from local business owners and friends, it was crazy,” said Stepnowska. “There was always something that needed to be done yesterday and we didn’t know who would come through for us, but somehow it worked.
“Jonathan Paulino constructed the wall, and the Myrtle Avenue BID painted the back wall just for the unveiling,” she added. “Santos Morales was always available for transportation. I couldn’t have done it alone and I thank everyone.”
State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Councilman Robert Holden, Ted Renz of the Myrtle Avenue BID, and members of Community Board 5 attended the ceremony. Barbour, who lost his uncle to COVID-19, read an original poem and Brian Walter and Katerina Veleska addressed the crowd. Walker lost his father, John Walker, and Veleska lost her father, Zlatko Veleski, to the virus.
The Glendale Queens Chamber of Commerce, which Stepnowska began organizing in late 2019, held just three meetings before COVID-19 hit New York. Despite that, it has an enthusiastic group of core members and is a positive presence in the community, especially during this pandemic. Weeks of isolation turned into months, with social contact limited to phone calls and the Internet.
As the number of new COVID-19 cases began to soar and deaths rose alarmingly, Stepnowska became apprehensive, but she knew that she was fortunate. She was healthy, had lost no one close to her to COVID-19, and that’s when the idea of creating a memorial began to take root.
“Talking to people who had been sick with COVID-19 or whose loved ones had died alone from this disease made me want to do something for my community,” she said. “I’m a floral designer, so I knew the memorial would include flowers. I chose paper flowers so people could pin photos of loved ones on them. The people who lost loved ones will remember them always.”
Stepnowska is grateful to the community for its help and support, but she was especially touched by one act of kindness and unity in particular on the part of a small group of homeless people who sleep at the memorial site. They watched the wall go up, and because they wanted to contribute they offered to keep an eye on it.
“I created this memorial because I wanted the survivors to know they weren’t alone in their grief,” Stepnowska said