Photos: More than 100 volunteers helped on Sept. 21.
The whir of weed wackers buzzed in the air, and crews dragged debris-loaded tarps. Volunteers with rakes and shears cleaned up brush, and a front-loader lifted logs. It was a cleanup on a grand scale, with more than 100 volunteers working for more than four hours, on Sept. 21, at the Masonic Cemetery on Old Kings Road.
It was especially appreciated by family members, who have often visited graves surrounded by knee high weeds in the past.
“It means a lot,” said Betty Steward, who was among the volunteers with relatives buried at the site. “When the cemetery is nice and clean and everything is up to par, you feel better when you come and visit your loved one. I really appreciate the help from everyone that’s here.”
'People will come'
I visited the grounds during the cleanup and spoke with Lenora Harris, who showed me the grave of her nephew Damonte’. He died Nov. 21, 2018, when the Waste Pro recycling truck in which he was riding overturned.
Some of the graves next to Damonte’s were sunken in, and many were unmarked. Some were in rows, but some appear haphazardly arranged.
“Would you want to be laid to rest out here?” Harris asked me.
Damonte’ was buried at this cemetery because of family connections: His brother is buried next to him, and their great-great grandfather is buried close by.
Harris lives 90 minutes away, but she took it upon herself to keep the area maintained and has organized volunteers every other month ever since November 2018. But the most they’ve had in the past were about 60 volunteers, and they didn’t have the proper tools, so the cemetery still never reached her standards, she said.
Meanwhile, Chad Sanders, who owns Perfectionists Lawn by Chad and is also a leader in the Palm Coast Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was told by a customer about the condition of the grounds. He asked another Palm Coast couple, Brian and Darlene Barrington, to organize a cleanup.
Harris was surprised to get a phone call from Darlene Barrington, a woman she didn’t know.
“‘Lenora, do you mind if I take over?’” Harris recalled Barrington saying. “I said, ‘Sure.’ She said, ‘Am I being too bossy?’ I said, ‘You can do whatever you want.’”
The Barringtons got to work and made arrangements for several businesses to donate services, including landscaper Tala Laupepa, The Climbing Otter, Waste Pro, and United Port-o-Potty. Darlene Barrington said her husband's effort was essential to making the event successful.
"We needed someone to keep everyone on task, and that was Brian," she wrote in an email. "No one could do it better."
Sanders was there on Sept. 21 to volunteer, along with his brother, Faron Sanders, who is the bishop of the Palm Coast Ward.
“It’s just a great opportunity for us to rub shoulders with everybody in the community and come together for a common cause,” Chad Sanders said.
That morning, Darlene Barrington was gathering up caution tape that had been stretched across some palmetto bushes to keep volunteers out of areas that may have snakes. She said the grounds were in rough shape before the cleanup but that much good had been done already.
“If you have something organized, people will come,” she said, adding that Palm Coast Community Church, the African American Cultural Society, and Church on the Rock helped to spread the word.
Recruiting the families
Harris has found 396 obituaries that mention someone being buried in the Masonic Cemetery, but there is no map. So, if a grave doesn’t have a headstone, no one is certain who is buried there. She has worked to identify some of them, and others remain unidentified; she has marked those with sticks — 96 of them so far.
The people who could solve these mysteries are the families themselves. Harris hopes that more families will get involved with future cleanup efforts as well. Starting in 2020, the cleanups will be on the second Saturday of the odd months: January, March and so on. To get involved, visit the Facebook group “Long Live Damonte Lee Harris.”
“I’m saddened by the lack of [family members],” she said. “They should be out here. If there are 300 and something graves, you need just one person from each one of those graves, and we would have enough.”