PARSIPPANY, N.J. — The loss of Hannah Ernst’s grandfather Cal Schoenfeld is still very much fresh on her mind.
"He was one in a million," she said when describing him. "He had a heart of gold and his smile was beyond anything."
It was on May 8 when the family’s patriarch lost a month-long battle with COVID-19.
The loss was devastating to the Parsippany family, all happening at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in New Jersey.
"There was a lot of panic, a lot of pandemonium," she said.
A time of mourning soon turned into a moment of inspiration for the 15-year-old, who created a digital portrait to honor her grandfather.
"I was just really messing on my iPad," Ernst explained. "I’ve seen something similar where you make silhouettes of people but I thought how cool would it be if someone put the yellow heart which is the symbol of Covid in the back of them."
The creative and powerful tribute was later posted by the teen’s mom in a COVID-19 support group on Facebook which then led to others inquiring about getting their loved ones memorialized.
Her “Faces of Covid” project then materialized and 325 portraits later, Ernst says she’s just getting started.
"I think they felt a part of something," she told PIX11 News, referring to what her portraits brought to families. "I think that this virus has unfortunately put together a group of people that share the common thread of losing somebody."
Ernst says her project will be an ongoing one, in an effort to highlight those lost while educating those unfazed by the death toll now nearing 200,000 in the US.
"I’m trying to help the people who don’t necessarily see this virus as the threat to really visualize the impact it’s had on this time."
Learn more about the "Faces of Covid" project on Facebook.