RECOVER Project holds annual vigil with safety precautions

  • Amie Hyson, second from right, a peer volunteer at the RECOVER Project on Federal Street in Greenfield, reads the names of local people lost to the effects of addiction for International Overdose Awareness Day on Monday evening. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Luminaries contain the names of local people lost to the effects of addiction for International Overdose Awareness Day on Monday evening outside the RECOVER Project on Federal Street. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ


  • Luminaries with the names of local people lost to the effects of addiction for International Overdose Awareness Day on Monday evening line the sidewalk outside the RECOVER Project on Federal Street. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/1/2020 4:07:44 PM

GREENFIELD – Sarah Ahern stood on Federal Street with several others on a recent cool summer night, clutching a large folder to her chest and mourning the loss of more than 70 people who have died of overdose or addiction-related complications in Franklin County over the past few years.

“In the first quarter of this year, we saw a significant increase in the region,” Ahern said Monday night at the RECOVER Project vigil. “Isolation does that, it feeds the disease.”

Ahern, who is in recovery and serves as a recovery coach at the RECOVER Project on Federal Street, read Gov. Charlie Baker’s proclamation recognizing International Overdose Awareness Day and the kickoff to National Recovery Month beginning Sept. 1 at the agency’s sixth annual vigil just outside its front door.  

All in attendance, with a line of more than 70 luminaries, victims’ names written on them, on either side of the sidewalk, acknowledged that the opioid epidemic is far from over, never taking a break during the COVID-19 pandemic and in some cases, making things worse for those who suffer from addiction.

“People who are suffering from the disease need community, connectedness,” Ahern said. “That’s so important, and with physical distancing that’s been very difficult to provide.”

According to staff and volunteers at the RECOVER Project, National Public Radio has reported new data from around the nation confirming that drug overdoses spiked during the pandemic, rising by roughly 18 percent. 

“We couldn’t hold our traditional vigil this year,” Amie Hyson, a peer volunteer at the RECOVER Project and one of the event’s coordinators who read the name on each luminary early in the vigil that started at 7:30 p.m., said. “We typically march during the day to honor those we have lost to overdose, and since we couldn’t do that this year, we planned a virtual/hybrid event.”

Some of the event was recorded for Facebook Live while Ahern, Hyson and several others stayed on the street until about 9:30 p.m. Monday.

“We typically hold the event during the day, but I wanted the luminaries to shine in the darkness so people would pay attention,” Hyson, who is in long-term recovery, said. “I always see light where there’s dark.”

Kelly Richardson-Wright of Greenfield said she just wants to give what she can give and help in any way she can.

“I’ve felt the effects of the opioid epidemic,” Richardson-Wright, who is with the Western Massachusetts Training Consortium, said. “I do outreach, which is very important to people. We teach them the skills they need in life. We’re building community.”

Drivers honked their horns as they passed the vigil. Some stopped to talk briefly. Those in attendance waved in appreciation.

“We’re all in this weird state of reality,” Hyson said. “The RECOVER Project closed in mid-March when the pandemic hit, and didn’t reopen until late July. It’s such a crazy time. This is exactly the time that people suffering from addiction needed in-person support, but it just couldn’t happen.”

Hyson said since late July there has been some in-person, physically distanced gatherings at the agency, but most remain remote.

“I run a writing group online, for instance,” she said.

RECOVER Project Peer and Community Engagement Coordinator Jeffrey McLeod said he was hired by the agency just as the pandemic hit, so he’s been working virtually from his living room.

“It has been a challenge, and some people just aren’t thrilled about having to use a computer to connect,” he said. “Then again, there’s a certain intimacy that some feel. They’re dealing with their problems where they are, with their cats and dogs in the background. That provides a level of comfort in their safe spaces.

“The antidote to addiction is connection, so we have to make sure we’re connecting however we can,” McLeod said.

He said what the RECOVER Project practices is SCAR: safety, compassion, acceptance and respect.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or





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