Deborah Salant, of Franklin Square, at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale...

Deborah Salant, of Franklin Square, at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale on Thursday. Credit: Reece T. Williams

When Deborah Salant tried to donate her family’s burial plots at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale to victims of COVID-19, her good-deed effort ran into red tape and an outstanding 71-year-old bill that topped $12,000.

Hempstead Town code said she could only use the two burial plots purchased by her great-grandfather in 1916, to hold four graves, for blood relatives. She was also told that she would have to pay $12,149 in outstanding maintenance fees to use the plots and that the last payment was made in 1949.

"I was dejected and I started thinking we can do something. We must do something and help those less fortunate," Salant recalled after a town board meeting on Tuesday. "We’re New Yorkers. We’re tough, why can’t we make a difference after we’ve been through so much."

Salant, 66, of Franklin Square, wrote in November to Hempstead Town officials, who operate the cemetery, asking to change the law to assist victims of the pandemic.

She went to the board meeting and delivered her impassioned plea, only to find out the board had just voted to grant her request and gave her a standing ovation.

Town board members voted 7-0 to approve a law suspending restrictions at the cemetery and waiving fees for anyone seeking to donate their plots for the duration of the pandemic.

Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin said the town’s cemetery nearly doubled its burials compared to last year.

"It shows you the magnitude of the loss," Clavin said. "This has not been an evenhanded pandemic. This has hit some communities harder than others, and some areas don’t have the means to bury their loved ones. Families will now have the opportunity to say goodbye at a resting place at our cemetery in the Town of Hempstead."

Salant does not have any children and said her bloodline ends with her. She has plans to be buried with her parents at Pinelawn Cemetery, but wanted to donate the graves to victims of COVID-19 after seeing footage last month of hundreds of victims still being kept in freezer trucks in New York City.

"I’m so glad I had my mask on because I started to choke up and couldn’t believe what I heard at that meeting," Salant said. "No family should lose a loved one and worry about the cost of a burial. We all visit loved ones’ graves on holidays and birthdays. By one simple act, I thought I could bring comfort to others. This is something I wanted to do as an opportunity to alleviate worry for COVID-19 victims."

Town officials said Greenfield Cemetery, which is limited to town residents, sells burial plots for between $3,800 and $4,300, or about half the price of plots at a private cemetery.

The legislation temporarily suspends the town’s code requiring burial rights only be transferred to a family member or spouse if they are donated to COVID-19 families. The town is also suspending any costs associated with the graves.

Salant’s outstanding fees will be waived. Her family had stopped paying for annual care on the burial plots. New burial plots are now sold with perpetual care by the cemetery.

"Her gesture of goodwill will open it up to dozens or hundreds of people and I’m hoping it does help other families," Clavin said.

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The pace of burials at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale has fluctuated as the pandemic has continued.

March: 52

April: 237

May: 119

June: 60

Average since: 40-60 per month

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