BELMAR — A beachfront memorial for COVID-19 victims has grown from 150 names to more than 2,000 in a span of less than two months, as the clock is ticking to find a new, permanent home for the artistic installation.

In the sand at Belmar’s 3rd Avenue beach, river-style stones each bear the name of a person who has died of COVID-19, carefully grouped inside heart-shaped borders made of yellow-painted clam shells.

The memorial was first created on Jan. 25 by Rima Samman, who lost her brother, Rami, to the virus. It was in memory of what would have been his 41st birthday.

A Belmar beachfront memorial for COVID victims needs a permanent home (courtesy Rima Samman)
A Belmar beachfront memorial for COVID victims needs a permanent home (courtesy Rima Samman)

Since placing those first names on the beach, Samman has continued to receive requests to add loved ones, many with deep New Jersey roots, who have died of coronavirus.

Ahead of Saturday’s “final” candlelit vigil, she and her partner, Travis Whitaker, added another 250 names, as the memorial has now expanded to 10 hearts in length.

Between 300 and 400 people attended the vigil, Samman said to New Jersey 101.5, while the Facebook live-streamed ceremony was watched by more than 10,000 people.

The challenge has now become finding a permanent location that might afford some protection from Mother Nature, Samman said, as the memorial already has sat beneath three snowstorms.

There also is the fast-approaching peak Shore season, which typically builds with the warmer spring weather, leading into Memorial Day.

Samman said she has not really heard from local officials, but that one borough council member did confirm in passing that the memorial would need to be taken off the beach before summer arrives.

A GoFundMe campaign now is collecting donations toward the expenses of relocating the memorial, as Samman continues to try and secure a new Shore area spot.

Samman, an artist, said she is ready to reimagine the memorial in order to fit whatever space may be available, while still being able to display the names of and pay tribute to those lost in the pandemic.

In addition to messages of gratitude that she has received from families who have found peace in seeing loved ones included, Samman said the memorial also has proven to be another Shore offering for visitors, at a time when so many businesses are looking to rebuild following the most stringent days of pandemic lockdown.

On Monday, Belmar's business administrator said to New Jersey 101.5 that the borough has been working with county officials to try and find a suitable spot for the memorial to be relocated.

Ahead of the vigil on Saturday, drone footage was posted to Youtube by Bill Mckim, showing a view of the full memorial.

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