The spread of COVID-19 across the globe has forever changed the meaning of the term ‘isolation’ for much of society -especially for those most vulnerable to the deadly virus. For families and seniors in our area who would otherwise be eagerly awaiting the arrival of warmer weather, morning strolls in the local park, graduations and family get-togethers, this new era of social distancing can feel particularly lonesome while most are sheltered indoors. However, in one of the most welcoming enigmas in this new age of coronavirus, isolation has actually become the impetus for connecting the communities of the Hudson Valley through celebration and simple gestures of human kindness. What began as small groups of friends coordinating drive-by birthday wishes across the country has burgeoned into quite the spectacle in our area, and in Dutchess County, NY, fire departments and local volunteers have come together to organize impromptu parades for seniors and children whose birthdays fall during this time of statewide confinement. The results over the last three weeks have proven the restorative effects community goodwill has when organized behind a rallying cry of togetherness – even if it is from a safe distance.
Throughout the last month, the Pine Plains, Stanfordville and Milan, NY, fire companies, working in conjunction with New York State Troopers, Dutchess County Sheriff’s as well local businesses have come together each Saturday and formed “birthday parades.” Dutchess county residents call in to organizers Edward Zick and Kathy Spiers of the Stanfordville Fire Department and give the name and address of a child or senior whose birthday fell on one of the days the week preceding the coming Saturday. “My son and I knew we had to do something,” says Stanfordville Fire Department President Ed Zick who, along with his son Matt, began to feel compelled to help residents of neighboring towns after seeing similar parades taking place across the country. “I originally thought there wouldn’t be enough volunteers willing to drive the trucks,” Ed says, “I happened to have the opposite problem. The volunteer response has been overwhelming both for us and the community.” The organized parades of well-wishing civil service volunteers has become something to behold for the residents of Dutchess County. Soon, local business joined in driven by the outpouring of care and goodwill from others in the community. Signs now decorate a Duffy Layton Contracting dump truck with Happy Birthday painted on either side as Duffy himself slowly drives past the homes of the birthday celebrators.
“After the first week was such a success, seeing the people and kids of the towns we serve was very emotional,” says Duffy who himself volunteers for the Stanfordville Fire Department. “After experiencing that first Saturday I told Ed and Kathy that I’m in whenever you need me. I began thinking of ways to make a bigger impact on the kids, so I asked Ed if I could decorate and drive one of my dump trucks.” Duffy’s efforts have been pleasantly rewarded by the gleeful shouts of children joining together in a happy chorus of excited greetings and thank yous from parents and seniors county-wide who often shed tears of joy and gratitude for the effort but also, for a brief moment of communal celebration. This coming weekend, not only will the Fire Departments be wishing Happy Birthday to local children, they will also be honoring all of the health care personnel in our area who have made countless sacrifices while battling off the virus locally.
In addition to the parade of firetrucks and police vehicles, the Town of Stanfordville and Duffy Layton Contracting have made a sign autographed by members of the community thanking local healthcare workers that will be hung on the side of Duffy’s Semi Trailer. Kathy Spiers, Stanfordville Fire Department’s secretary and treasurer, who has taken on the task of fielding requests and organizing parade routes each week says she has collected thirty-seven nurses and eight birthdays to honor and celebrate this coming Saturday. “This is something we will never forget,” says Kathy. “When we asked our volunteers if they would participate, nobody hesitated and I think that reinforces how close everyone is to the people of Dutchess County. As much as it is for the community, it’s also therapeutic for the fire company to see so many smiles and to be providing our community with some hope and positivity.”
Dutchess County resident and mother of three Corey Roche has felt the heartwarming effects the community outreach has had on her family first-hand. “The world that we are living in right now is very unsettling and frightening. This is a situation that we as Americans have never had to face before.” Roche explains, “As a mother of three young children (Connor-12, Amelia-4 and Lucas-2), trying to explain to them why we are being quarantined is very difficult. So when Duffy reached out to me to ask if I wanted the fire departments to celebrate my oldest son’s birthday, my answer was of course yes! Little did I know at that time how much it would touch my heart. Watching the men and women of our community come together to not only spread joy to others, but also take our minds off of the reality we are living in – even if only for a moment – was amazing.”