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Landscaping companies donate time and resources to clean historic Elmerton Cemetery

Just in time for Memorial Day, the annual cemetery cleanup continues, even with COVID-19 preventing volunteers from helping in person.

HAMPTON, Va. — With lawnmowers and weed whackers, at least four landscaping companies are donating time and resources to cleaning up the Elemerton and Bassett cemeteries in Hampton.

It's the final resting place for many emancipated African-Americans, like Mary S. Peake, who founded a school that taught freed slaves during the Civil War.

Usually people, like volunteers from the Do Gooders of Hampton Roads, show up in-person to help remove grass and weeds.

Whalen McDew, the Chairman of Do Gooders of Hampton Roads, said, "I wish it wasn't COVID-19 going on because we would have had a lot more people out here."

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year is different, with the cleaning being left in the professionals' hands.

Even so, McDew said, "It always warms my heart when we have the community come together to help do something in the community."

The Barett-Peake Foundation is behind the yearly clean-up. Former Delegate Mary T. Christian founded the foundation, but she passed away this past November.

Now the foundation president, Colita Nicole Fairfax, said that keeping the tradition honors Christian too.

"Just pay respect to people who really forged a way out of no way," Fairfax said."I am not related to anybody in any of these cemeteries, but I do think that is a form of community development and community pride.”

It's an abnormal year for a meaningful tradition. However, with the help of a drive-thru flag donation drop-off and community landscapers, it's a clean start to honoring many trailblazers at once.

The President of the Hampton NAACP, Gaylene Knoyton said, "We have to find the new normal of being able to continue a new legacy."

The Barett-Peake Foundation is asking the community to drive up and donate American flags for the graves. No one will have to get out of their cars.

On Memorial Day, they’ll lay out more than 500 American flags at the headstones.

For more information, call 757-598-3809.

RELATED: Former state delegate, educator Dr. Mary Christian passes away

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