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Car parades help McHenry County residents show support, celebrate from afar

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You’ve probably seen or heard them – lines of cars decorated with balloons and signs driving through neighborhoods or honking their horns.

Sometimes they’re wishing someone a happy birthday, and other times it’s teachers and school staff who wanted to say hello to students they’ve missed.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, people are using car parades to celebrate occasions and see friends in a socially distant way.

Maggie McDowell of Woodstock started a Facebook page called “Woodstock Birthday Drive By” for residents of the city who want to help people celebrate.

McDowell said it all started when she saw a woman on Facebook say it was her son’s birthday, but he was bummed out because he couldn’t have a party due to coronavirus concerns.

The woman asked whether anybody driving by the area could stop by her house and honk and wave. A date was set, and people went by the address in decorated cars to celebrate the boy’s birthday.

As more people started going down the street, McDowell said, the shock and amazement on the kid’s face was so overwhelming that it put tears in her eyes.

“It was such a good feeling, you know? And I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, why isn’t there a page for this?’” McDowell said.

So she started one, and it took off quickly.

People began telling McDowell when their child’s birthday is, and she or they would create a Facebook event for a drive-by parade before sending it out to other members of the group.

The Facebook group grew to 350 people, and McDowell got two people – Kristi Barnes and Amy Luebke – to help her run it.

“Everybody’s kind of down, especially the kids,” McDowell said. “They’re stuck at home, you know. [People have had] to cancel their kids’ birthday parties ... some people are having golden birthdays and sweet 16s. And I just wanted to do it to ... [give] somebody something to look forward to.”

McDowell said the streets usually are lined with people outside their front doors, with kids watching the parades regardless of whether they are the guest of honor.

“It’s really just something to just make people happy, to put a smile on somebody’s face,” McDowell said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations other than birthdays, such as Mother’s Day, also have been put on hold.

Clarendale of Algonquin, a senior-living facility, planned a Mother’s Day car parade for residents Saturday.

Residents will sit in chairs spaced apart outside, and families driving by in front of the facility in decorated cars will wave at them.

Kami Tobey, director of life enrichment and memory care at Clarendale, said since they stopped allowing visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve been trying to keep everybody as connected as possible.

However, it still has been tough for families, she said.

“We’ve been doing a lot of FaceTime, Skype and window visits, but Mother’s Day is a huge holiday,” Tobey said, which is why they decided to do a parade.

She said Friday that a lot of families were excited about the parade.

“I think they’re gonna go all out in decorating their cars just to show some love,” Tobey said.

Schools in the area including in Woodstock, Johnsburg, Lake in the Hills, Prairie Grove School District 46 and Fox River Grove School District 3 also have hosted parades.

Both District 3’s Algonquin Road School and Fox River Grove Middle School participated in one last month that covered the whole town.

Amy Weicheck, a special education teacher at Algonquin Road School, said the idea came about when she and two co-workers were talking about how to boost morale.

“We went through a lot of emotions because we were so excited to see them, but it was also kind of sad to see them from a distance and not be able to go and give them a hug or a high-five or see how they’re doing,” Weicheck said.

The Fox River Grove Police Department helped and participated in the schools’ parade while the Fox River Grove Fire Protection District also had a firetruck included.

Police officers made sure all necessary streets were blocked off, and District 3 sent out a map with finalized locations so parents would know where the parade would be.

“There [were] lots of kids with signs, and they were so excited,” Weicheck said. “They were jumping up and down and yelling and waving.”

Village President Robert Nunamaker got in on the fun, Weicheck said, and one of the middle school teachers had his daughter dress up as the school’s mascot, an eagle.

Weicheck said everyone had their car decorated with signs saying “We miss you” or “We love you.”

“One of the best ones I saw was a little boy who was probably 3 or 4, and he was holding a sign that said ‘Please, take my sister back,’” Weicheck said.

Weicheck said she grew up in Fox River Grove and knows the community is tight-knit.

“It was really great to see,” she said. “We got a lot of positive feedback from parents sending messages afterward or putting things on Facebook about how great it was. So I think it really did its job of uplifting students.”

Parades are a good way to make everyone feel like they still care about each other, Weicheck said, and they give people a way to see each other safely.

“We still think about each other,” she said.

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