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Tajha Chappellet-Lanier here, thinking about heroes. When we say the word “hero” we often think of people in extraordinary circumstances, doing extraordinary things. George Washington and John Adams are considered American heroes for their roles in the founding of our nation. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks for their leadership in the civil rights movement. A hero often makes a meaningful contribution to humanity: Louis Pasteur for discovering the principles of vaccination; Galileo Galilei for discoveries in astronomy; Mother Teresa for her charitable work. Other times a hero is someone who is exceptionally brave or strong—a firefighter who selflessly enters a burning building to save a family. 

The past 16 months of pandemic life have certainly been an extraordinary time. A time that has required bravery and strength—from health workers, yes, and also from the myriad other types of essential workers (a new term we learned, on the fly, along with “social distancing” and “pod”) who stepped up to keep us fed, safe and moving forward.

That’s why we’ve devoted the cover of this week’s print edition of the Weekly to local heroes—hospital housekeepers, farmworkers, transit workers, grocers and teachers. We see these people, as well as the broader groups they represent, as the unsung heroes of the past year-and-a-half. And this is our way of saying thank you.

In the cover package you’ll find Mary Duan sharing the voices of Denise Muñoz and Ashlee Grider, two grocery clerks at Star Market in Salinas. They talk about what it was like in those early pandemic days, with shelves empty of essentials and shoppers full of anxiety. Celia Jiménez has Marciana Lazaro’s story, a farmworker turned community health worker, using her language skills in Mixteco, Spanish and sign language to help get people vaccinated. Sara Rubin talked to Sylvia Rodriguez who, as a housekeeper at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, was closer to the scary reality of Covid-19 than many of us can imagine. Christopher Neely chronicles the ways in which Central Coast High School teacher Kevin Cullen went above and beyond to help his students graduate in a tough time. And Marielle Argueza interviews Ruben Cano, a Monterey-Salinas Transit bus driver, whose love for the simplicity of helping people get from point A to B overrides everything else, even the pandemic.

We hope you’ll pick up a paper to read more about each of these local heroes, and join us in saying thank you. And maybe add a thank you for your favorite unsung hero, too.

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