Chronicling the past with an eye to the future

Delran Historical Society asks residents to share their pandemic experiences

While 2020 feels like one interminable long haul for so many, rest assured it will one day become our past — and the Delran Historical Society wants to document it for future generations.

The society is inviting Delran residents to submit their firsthand experiences with the pandemic’s impact to create a living document that chronicles the effect these unprecedented times have had on life in town. And its members want those experiences to come directly from the Delran community itself.

“Our board members thought that our society needed to have a project that would document this rare time, but we wanted to do it in a way that involved the community,” said society Vice President PJ Buzzi. “Our society is always looking for new ways to outreach into the community.”

That community buy-in is important to provide a fuller, richer and more complete oral, visual and written history for those who didn’t live through the pandemic themselves but are curious about the personal impact it had.

Residents have a variety of options for submitting their contributions, from a few sentences to longer essays and written accounts, to videos or audio recordings, to photos and artwork visually detailing or inspired by life in the times of COVID.

“We didn’t want to limit or exclude anyone: Whatever people are comfortable with, we just want them to be able to participate,” Buzzi noted. “Some people might want to write a couple pages, but others are more interested in taking pictures of things like signs reminding people of social distance and to wear their mask. And some people have that talent to create artwork inspired by something they saw during the pandemic.”

Allowing various ways for residents to express themselves and share their journeys will, the historical society hopes, encourage them to tap into their individual storytelling strengths. It also has the benefit of curating a fully fleshed-out picture of the feelings and facts involved in adapting to and living through the pandemic.

“We thought it would be a good way to keep community members involved, since we can’t have public meetings and we don’t have any kind of museums,” Buzzi explained. “Hopefully, in the future, people can look back at our record and see how everyone’s lives were changed.”

On its website (delranhistoricalsociety.org), the society maintains a collection of stories detailing Delran’s history. That collection of pandemic narratives will provide some personal insight into how an historical epoch affected the township itself, as well as assist with Delran Historical Society’s mission of collecting and preserving evidence of the past while educating for the future.

According to Buzzi, the society plans to create a file in its archives to hold all the submissions it receives. And in addition to including the project’s submissions on the society website, members also want to curate a revolving display at the municipal building to showcase residents’ stories, however they choose to tell them.

But beyond looking toward the future and helping Delran residents down the road contextualize the local impact of an unprecedented time, Buzzi and the rest of the historical society hope the project helps current residents stay grounded and mindful, too.

“I hope that this project will help local residents to take a moment to think about their lives and help them realize what is truly meaningful and important to them,” he said. “Personally, the lockdowns and closures during the pandemic have made me realize how much I value meeting new people and how I enjoy going to local events … I know that after the pandemic is over that I will have an even greater appreciation for the personal connections I make and the places that I go to.”

While there’s no hard deadline yet, Delran residents interested in participating in the project are encouraged to turn in their submissions during the first quarter of 2021. The Delran Historical Society can be reached at either contactus@delranhistoricalsociety.org or P.O. Box 1201 Delran, NJ 08075.