UNIONDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Some areas hit hard by COVID have limited space for burials, creating hardships on top of tragedy.

Now, one Long Island donor is changing outcomes for grieving families.

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“You cry. I mean, I shed tears,” Deborah Salant said.

Salant and her husband, Robert, have no direct descendants. Through the pandemic, they were touched watching grieving families unable to afford to bury loved ones lost to the coronavirus, or even find space.

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Deborah Salant came forward to donate burial privileges in her unused family plot in Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale that her great-grandfather purchased in 1916.

“They told me that that was not allowable because the plot must be used by a blood relation or by marriage to the purchaser,” she said.

So the Salants went to town hall. In the name of compassion, rules should be changed, they said.

“I’m overwhelmed with emotions,” Robert Salant said. “To have no closure, no end to their agony, to their grief, that’s unacceptable.”

The town of Hempstead agreed.

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Long Island’s only town-owned cemetery just amended its code.

“Because of her idea, we can now open that up, that families will have the opportunity to say goodbye and have a resting place,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin said.

Burial rights can be transferred and costs suspended.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

The Salants learned they have space enough for four COVID gravesites.

“We respect strangers. What other way can we help but to give something of ourselves and by donating these plots,” Deborah Salant said.

The cemetery on 158 acres includes the remains of 100,000 people, including some from the Civil War era, others who died from the Spanish flu and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By this one act, maybe we can carry this to other cemeteries,” Deborah Salant said.

The legislation allows plot owners to gift burial privileges, and that will continue through the duration of the pandemic.

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