Law enforcement and firefighters form a caravan of care to help youth celebrate birthdays during COVID-19 pandemic
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A caravan of care is helping people of all ages in Crawford County celebrate birthdays and other milestones during these uncertain times as citizens are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, Grayling Department of Public Safety, and firefighters from throughout the county have been doing drive-by processions or parades to help children celebrate their birthday since they can’t gather with family and friends for parties.
Crawford County Sheriff Shawn M. Kraycs learned other sheriff’s offices and emergency responders were doing the parades after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued the state-at-home executive order.
Children cannot celebrate with families and friends due to social distancing measures and bans on gatherings, and they cannot celebrate with classmates since the schools are closed for rest of the current school year.
“It’s just one more thing we can do for the citizens during this time,” Kraycs said. “If it brings a smile to the child’s face, helps the parents, and puts us out there in a good light, maybe this will make this stay-at-home stuff be less frustrating.”
Kraycs said his deputies have done between 60 to 70 parades with other emergency response agencies in the county, both during the daytime and nighttime shifts.
They did one for an elderly woman who was forced to stay at home after undergoing heart surgery. Another was done after a couple was married and the spouse was scheduled to be deployed with the military.
Sgt. Ryan Finstrom, who is on the road patrol for the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, said he enjoys doing the parades past the children and their families as deputies are faced with limited interaction with the public due to the virus.
“It’s like giving back to the people who have been have sponsoring us all these years, helping out law enforcement, fire, and EMS,” he said. “It’s nice to see these kids’ faces. It just makes their day when we’re all pretty strapped with staying at home.”
Chief Russell H. Strohpaul Jr. from the Grayling Fire Department said the drive-by processions help children and families dealing with anxiety being at home.
“Everybody is cooped up and can’t get out,” he said. “Kids can’t have birthday parties, and we’re just kind of trying to make it special for them.”
Law enforcement and fire departments are joined by Mobile Medical Response ambulances, if they are available.
The firefighters can also call out the child’s name over the public address system in the fire trucks to congratulate them.
Strohpaul said recognizing the children and future leaders of the community is mutually gratifying.
“It’s more for the person on the receiving end and it maybe makes their day a little bit better,” he said.
Lt. Allen Ballard, the public information officer for the Frederic Fire Department, said the drive-by processions allow firefighters and EMS staff to continue to have an outreach with citizens as they are tested by restrictions and tough economic times.
“The fire department, to be helping a child to enjoy their birthday during the quarantine, allows us to have an involvement in the community even though we’re all still maintaining our social distancing,” Ballard said. “They really enjoy it. They like to see their faces.”
Lyndy Vansickle arranged for a drive-by of the family’s home for her daughter, Summerlynn Vansickle, who turned four years old on Tuesday, April 28.
“We enjoyed it. She had fun watching the cars go by,” Lyndy said. “She was all excited.”
Summerlynn later had a small birthday party with cake and ice cream.
“Having that little thing was special for her,” Lyndy said.
Lyndy said the birthday was bittersweet this year because Summerlynn’s great aunt, who they usually shared birthday parties with, recently passed away.
“The sheriff’s department did a really great job,” Lyndy said. “I thought it was cool that they took the time out of their day instead of patrolling and keeping their eye on everything to come out here to make it special for her.”
A large drive-by procession took place on Tuesday, April 28, as the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, Grayling Department of Public Safety, Michigan State Police, and every fire department in the county recognized the healthcare heroes working at the Munson Healthcare Grayling Hospital.
They did back-to-back parades on Monday, May 11, after a procession was held for an Otsego County Fire Department firefighter, who was treated for COVID-19 at the Munson Healthcare Grayling Hospital, as he was being transported in an ambulance to a hospital in Grand Rapids for rehabilitation.
Cady Muraida, who turned 13 years old on Monday, May 11, was elated to see the police and firefighters who had been in her neighborhood the week before to help a peer mark their birthday.
“It was really nice of them and I’m glad they did it,” she said.
Rylynn Clark, who turned eight years old on Monday, May 11, braved the chilly temperatures and windy weather with her family as a procession passed by her home.
“It’s cool and pretty neat,” Clark said.