Sometimes good times can help overcome the bad. For many people in the Vankleek Hill area, 2020 will be remembered not only for the isolation of social distancing, but for a wonderful birthday celebration they didn’t expect.
What started as an idea to hold a birthday celebration for a friend’s child has grown into the VKH Community Birthday Parades Group on Facebook, with organizers and dozens of participants now holding almost a parade a day to celebrate birthdays in the region. Krissy Duval, one of the founders of the Facebook page, says it all started as just an idea to hold a birthday parade for the birthday of a friend’s son.
“We had heard about some birthday parades being done in Ottawa so we thought it would be a nice thing to do,” Duval recalls. “Everyone really enjoyed it.”
There were about a dozen cars in the first parade and both the birthday boy and those in the parade had a great time. As it turned out, all of the participants had so much fun, they began discussing how they could hold more parades for children in the Vankleek Hill region.
“We recognized that a lot of kids were not experiencing birthday parties,” says Duval. “So we wanted to do something to change that.”
That recognition led last month to the creation of the VKH Community Birthday Parades Facebook group, with Duval, Holly Frohloff and Carolina Genest serving as administrators and organizing the events along with the help of many other regular parade participants. Almost immediately, requests for birthday parades started rolling in. And once people heard about the Facebook page, it quickly became apparent that parade tricks weren’t just for kids:
“It started out just for kids, but then people started asking if we could do parades for their mom or dad or other members of the family,” Duval says. “It really doesn’t matter what age you are. It’s such a gratifying experience both for the family and the parade participants.”
Those who take part in the parades have been decorating their vehicles with balloons, cardboard cakes and other items to add color to the parades. It can be quite a sight as the decorated vehicles come down streets or roadways which have generally been very quiet lately.
Organizing birthday parades for all ages has kept the organizers very busy. As of last week, the VKH Community Birthday Parades page had already obtained 369 members. On average the group has been holding about 5 parades each week throughout the area for birthday revellers from ages 8 to 80. Last week was a perfect example of that, with a parade on Wednesday in Vankleek Hill for a 9-year-old boy and then one on Thursday in Hawkesbury for senior celebrating her 80th birthday.
For the Zihlmann family in Vankleek Hill, the parade for their son Rueben’s birthday was a chance to safely see old friends and break some of the monotony of social distancing:
“This is a wonderful idea for the kids,” said Rueben’s father Martin, whose son was particularly thrilled to see his best friend from school in one of the vehicles. “It’s hard when you can’t see anyone. A lot of the people (in the parade) are from our church so we usually see them all the time.”
There was no shortage of friends and well-wishers on this day, as the parade for Rueben’s 9th birthday had more than 20 vehicles participating – one of the larger turnouts for the events.
“We get a varying number of participants (for each parade),” says Duval. “A lot depends on the weather, time of day etc. It can be anywhere from 5 to 25 cars”
The day after Rueben’s birthday, Hawkesbury senior Evelyn Murphy was out on her Tupper Street porch chatting with her son-in-law when she was surprised by the parade organized for her 80th birthday. The surprise celebration brought tears to her eyes, as about a dozen cars decorated with balloons drove by Murphy’s home, honking horns and shouting out birthday wishes.
“I knew I had to be on my porch at 11 today, but I didn’t know why,” Murphy said between happy sobs. “This is amazing.”
Her daughter Kate Noble agreed: “It’s so wonderful that they do this.”
The parades don’t just bring joy to those celebrating their special day. The organizers and parade participants driving their decorated vehicles get just as much or more out of taking part says Lorie Turpin, who helps organize the events and attends almost every one. “We have so much fun. Everyone is buying in.”
While she loves all of the parades, Turpin admits there are some in particular she finds extra special: “It’s so cute when there are little girls in their princess dresses jumping up and down,” Turpin laughs.
One of the main objectives required to hold the parades is to ensure participants respect the social distancing rules in place. Krissy Duval says the best way to do that is to ensure participants always remain in their vehicles, no matter how tempting it may be to drop off a gift or card:
“We want to remind everyone in the parades to please stay in their cars. It is very important to respect the social distancing rules so that we can continue to do the parades.”
The VKH Community Birthday Parades Group is located on Facebook and can be found with the search function. The direct link is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/678964239505277/
Links to the group administrators, Duval, Frohloff and Genest are provided on the Facebook page and anyone who wishes to request a parade for someone’s birthday can do so by sending a private message to any one of the three administrators. As well the request for a birthday parade can be made through a public post on the Facebook page itself. Anyone who wishes to participate in the parades can also contact the organizers through Facebook.