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More than 20 cars decked out with streamers, balloons and multicolored posters lined up at Hastings’ Calvary Baptist Church last week to wish 6-year-old Gracelyn Gubin a happy birthday from afar.

At a time when in-person parties are not allowed and physical contact discouraged, the people of Hastings, Minn., are organizing "birthday parades" to honor the special occasions during this time of social distancing and isolation. Locals stay in their decorated cars while honking and waving as they roll past the birthday celebrators, who range anywhere from toddlers to senior citizens.

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"None of it would be possible without the people in the community stepping up and showing up," said Chelsea Morgan, the creator of the Hastings MN Covid-19 Birthday Parades Facebook group that facilitates the parades.

Morgan said she saw videos of other cities holding similar parades and thought it would be a great way to bring the Hastings community together.

The private Facebook group now has more than 650 members, all of whom can submit requests for a parade to pass by their home. Many people traditionally celebrate their birthdays by throwing parties with friends and family, but in the time of a global pandemic, people have had to improvise.

About 20 cars, many decorated with balloons and posters, lined up on March 30 to wish Bernie Schluessler a happy 75th birthday
About 20 cars, many decorated with balloons and posters, lined up on March 30 to wish Bernie Schluessler a happy 75th birthday

Bekka Sherry

Meghan Gubin, Gracelyn's mother, said she was happy that she was able to celebrate her daughter's "Frozen"-themed parade, even in these uncertain times. Gracelyn, wearing a purple pajama set, stood at the end of her driveway holding hands with her mom and gently waving at the slow-rolling cars.

"She just started kindergarten and wasn't able to celebrate with her classmates," Gubin said. "This was wonderful."

The birthday parades are just one example of ways people are trying to make connections with one another beyond their computer screens and smartphones.

Other cities are attempting to find equilibrium during this new normal by creating volunteer groups to help those in need by delivering groceries and sewing masks, like the movement sweeping through Alexandria, Minn. Groups have sprung up on Nextdoor to seek new ways to connect with neighbors.

Parades seem to be a common grassroots effort to show people they care, as Minnesota cities, like New Prague, have created similar parade groups. Last month, Apple Valley teachers decorated their cars and drove the bus routes to wave hello to their students from the street.

The Hastings birthday parades have even caught the attention of the local fire department, and last week more than 100 cars, fire trucks, semi-trucks and tractors paraded through neighborhoods.

Dakota County, where Hastings is located, currently has 63 of the state's 935 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Parade participators are not allowed to leave their cars or throw gifts out of their vehicles, and the group stresses the importance of maintaining appropriate distances between one another.

The group isn’t just celebrating birthdays. It also plans to host an Easter parade and to help organize the sewing of face masks for the local community.