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Mainers trade in birthday parties for parades during the coronavirus

Communities around Maine are helping children celebrate their birthdays this year in a creative and new way as a precaution against COVID-19.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Birthdays are usually one of the best days of the year for most children. It's a time to celebrate with friends and family, tear open presents, and devour sugary treats. For parents, the planning behind parties takes up hours of time and energy -- but it's all worth it once the chaos and clean-up are complete.

This year, though, birthday celebrations look a bit different than usual. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled countless events, and that includes parties of any type.

"As a mom, you always want to make their special day as special as possible," Heather Mills, a Biddeford mother, expressed to NEWS CENTER Maine via video call. She had been having a hard time dealing with the changes, as her son Cooper's 11th birthday crept closer.

"It seemed like every day something else was going wrong, whether it was Amazon not shipping packages, or not being able to go to the grocery store and actually get what you need."

That's why a special community effort meant so much to her and Cooper after they decided to cancel planned celebrations to keep people healthy.

"It was just kind of out of the blue and crazy," Mills smiled, talking about the parade that neighbors, friends, and strangers took part in to surprise her son on his special day. It meant a lot to him, too.

"As he watched, it was excitement and giggling -- and then all of a sudden he tackle-hugged me and just started crying."

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In another Biddeford home, Gerry Matherne and her 8-year-old daughter, Tessa, experienced similar excitement. Gerry said that everyone from family to teachers to strangers showed up -- and that included first responder vehicles. 

If you ask Tessa what is was like, her answer is pretty simple ("It was really cool"), but to Gerry, the parade during the coronavirus pandemic had an even deeper meaning.

"Unfortunately, it takes something like this sometimes for something so wonderful to happen," Matherne expressed with Tessa by her side during a video call interview.

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The initiative was made possible because of a Biddeford-area Facebook group, created by mother Jenica Gosselin with the help of her son, who she says wanted something to do during remote schooling.

"It is really important for us to find ways to get together, even if it is each in our own car," Gosselin said.

The parades started out small with only a few cars, but they have since grown to include sometimes more than 30 vehicles -- a special sight to see for all ages.

"Every parade is getting bigger, with more and more cars, and more and more people," Mills said. "It’s so exciting to go and watch. Every car that lines up -- your heart kind of swells a little bit more."

"I think we all are looking for a reason to smile right now, and this is making kids really happy. It's doing wonderful things for grown-ups, as well," Gosselin added.

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.newscentermaine.com/coronavirus.