At this time of the year we normally invite readers to nominate exemplary local residents who deserve consideration for our annual Rio Grande Valley Citizen of the Year award.

This year, however, one group has set itself apart by helping more people, at greater personal risk: Valley healthcare workers. They are an obvious choice as the 2020 Citizens of the Year.

AIM Media Texas, parent company of Valley newspapers that include The Brownsville Herald, The Monitor, Valley Morning Star, El Nuevo Herald, Mid-Valley Town Crier, The Coastal Current Weekly and El Extra, each year selects a person or group who best exemplify good citizenship and service to the community.

Certainly, this has not been a normal year. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for everybody. And many people have offered the kind of service for which this award was designed. Some have donated or helped distribute goods for people who lost work to the pandemic and suddenly had trouble acquiring basic necessities including food and medication, or helped set up drive-thru coronavirus testing centers. Merchants endured the cost of closing their businesses to prevent unnecessary contact, and set up curbside pick-up or delivery service to keep providing their goods to local shoppers. Educators found creative ways to utilize web-based networks in order to keep educating the Valley’s children.

Valley doctors, nurses, paramedics and others have worked long hours for most of the year, many of them taking no vacations and sporadic days off, addressing the needs of an area where the pandemic hit hardest. While still addressing normal medical emergencies that continued to occur, they found ways to treat a viral disease that was contagious, deadly and overwhelmed our medical infrastructure. At its worst, COVID-19 forced Valley cities to set up temporary wards in portable buildings, convention centers and other locales, and to secure refrigerated trailers to place the dead bodies that area funeral homes and morgues weren’t able to accommodate.

They had to improvise and scrounge for respirators for their patients, protective gear for themselves and other life-saving supplies that couldn’t keep up with the demand. The workers knew that even when they had enough masks, gloves and other protective items, they risked exposure to the virus — or carrying it home to their own families. Many did fall victim to the disease, and unfortunately some died.

And so instead of nominations for specific individuals, we invite readers to send us their own tributes and thoughts to recognize our healthcare workers and show them the gratitude and appreciation they deserve. Tributes, including video messages, are welcome at [email protected] We plan to publish those tributes on our Facebook pages later this month, so that our Citizens of the Year, and all community members, can see how much they have helped our community, and how grateful we are for their work.

This is one small way we can help show our appreciation to people who surely don’t hear those words of thanks and encouragement as much as they deserve.