First Prize

2021 Features (Midsize Newsroom) Winner

Rita Omokha, The Hechinger Report, Vanity Fair

The Orphans Covid Left Behind

About the Winner

To tell the story, “In the Shadows: The Orphans Covid Left Behind,” for The Hechinger Report and Vanity Fair, Omokha spent seven days in Boynton Beach, Florida — from dawn till bedtime each day — documenting the lives of Cindy Dawkins’s surviving children: Jenny, Tré, Zoe and Sierra.

Through their story, she reveals how this demographic of survivors has been neglected nationwide as the narrative around Covid deaths focuses on the mounting numbers themselves, not on the consequences for the high — and rapidly growing — numbers of children losing parents or guardians.

Comments from the Judges:

“This is really lovely storytelling. It doesn’t call attention to itself, it’s just natural, bringing you into the family and its individual members. I loved these kids and the writer makes you feel like you’re right there with them. It’s poignant and above all it makes the impact of covid come alive.”

“Great quotes. Excellent photos. The approach, the rawness, the heart-aching beauty captured by Rita Omokha as she documented the tiniest of details while this family tried to move on gave incredible insight into the fabric of what it meant to be a COVID orphan. The tears wouldn’t stop. I found this story captivating. This was a touching and immersive narrative sprinkled with just the right amount of data to put the problem in context.”