It Has Been A Year

Commentary By: Dean P. Johnson, Follow South Jersey Writer/Editor

It has been a year.

I mean that literally and quite figuratively.  It has been a year.

I remember last January and February, watching the news and reading news updates online about this thing called coronavirus.  I remember watching maps of the world showing the rapid spread as color coded hot spots crept closer and closer to the US. Then, once it hit the West Coast, watching it manifest its destiny east.

We knew it was only a matter of time until we, like places around the world had already done, would go into quarantine.  That word alone brought visions of Steven King novels and post-apocalyptic movies. This was the stuff of science fiction not our daily lives.

The very last full day of in-person school for me — I teach 12th grade English — and my students was Monday, March 16, 2020.  Many South Jersey schools had already closed the Friday before, but our school put in one extra day in order to practice our virtual learning. Students in classrooms logged into their devices, and the teacher taught remotely in person.  It was a day to get the bugs out, to sure up expectations, to gather necessary materials, and to say goodbye.

Many of my school’s seniors sign out around one in the afternoon for internships, college courses, and co-op activities.  As I was in the cafeteria monitoring the students leaving, the mood was more subdued than usual. Students weren’t leaving as fast as they always had before. Many stayed longer than they had to just to talk.  Even though this closure was only supposed to be two weeks, many of us had a feeling it might be much longer.

“I have a feeling I may never see you again,” someone said. “I am feeling in a way,” someone else said. Some were crying, others hugging. I didn’t even try to hide my eyes swelling up and reddening. When the last senior left, I knew in my heart that I would never see them in person again.

The following days at home were eerie. There was an odd quiet around town. There was less traffic on the roads. The sky which always seemed to have an airplane or two brushing through the firmament was now an empty blue canvas.

Then there was the supermarket. The rush for provisions the week before had left store shelves bare. Those of us who didn’t hoard paper products were left wondering what future trips to the lieu had in store for us.

I count myself as among the fortunate when it comes to the isolation may people have experienced and are still experiencing. I have my wife and a number of children and grandchildren living in my household, so there were always people around. However, I know many who live alone and have felt devastated by the isolation of quarantine.  

Zoom calls were certainly bright spots when you couldn’t see friends and family, but when that computer screen closes, it’s like stepping out of a warm, comfortable bed onto a cold, rugless floor.

And, as we all know so well, the two weeks turned into another two weeks, and then…well, here we are.  It has been a year.

This past year has been challenging emotionally, professionally, physically, and financially for many of us. Students and parents struggling with virtual, hybrid, pivoting between the two. Unemployment. Hunger. Illness. Feelings of fear and frustration and hopelessness. However, through the loss of jobs, loss of businesses, loss of health, loss of life, we have endured.

We have endured because we have been there for each other. We have donated money, food and other necessities, not just to organizations who gather and distribute such things, but to neighbors in need.  One survey found that a quarter of donors to non-profit organizations planned to increase their donations in response to COVID-19, while 54 percent planned to maintain their giving levels. We have supported our local small businesses and restaurants by ordering items for curbside pickup or touchless delivery. We have had drive-by birthday and anniversary greetings. We have had Zoom parties and happy hours and family dinners. We have shared our talents on social media through art and music and song.

We have supported each other as a community time and time again. There are so many examples and so many stories of how neighbor has been helping neighbor.

This year Hopeloft, a Bridgeton nonprofit and Follow South Jersey’s parent organization, has announced its “Year For Hope” campaign whose goal is to rally community support and spotlight nonprofit organizations who may be struggling due to the pandemic.

As part of the “Year For Hope,” we’d like you to share your story about the past year with us.  Please send along your experiences and reflections to for us to share with our South Jersey neighbors.

It has certainly been quite a year. So let’s remind each other through our stories and our service to each other that while we are far more together than we are distant.

Follow South Jersey provides local journalism which highlights our diverse communities; fosters transparency through robust, localized, and vital reporting that holds leaders and institutions accountable; addresses critical information needs; supports people in navigating civic life; and equips people with the information necessary to partake in effective community engagement. If there is a story or event you think we should cover, please send your tips to with “NEWS” in the subject line.