Isolated in cars, parade participants provide encouragement during lockdown

How can you provide encouragement to students and first responders during a COVID-19 lockdown? Stage a parade.

Martinez residents did that twice Sunday. And more may be staged in the future.

From the safe isolation of their cars, in keeping with government directives about “social distancing,” teachers, staff and supporters of Morello Park Elementary School drove through nearby neighborhoods, shouting encouragement to students from their cars decorated with signs and purple balloons.

“I was a big success for both the Morello Park Elementary community and teachers/staff,” said MPE Principal Ami Nichols. She said the parade was suggested by Cherise Gutierrez, the school’s technology specialist, after staff learned District schools would be closed until May 1.

The car parade would lift spirits while keeping participants at a safe distance, Gutierrez said.  Sh spnt a dozen hours planning the two-hour event to reach at least 200 houses, Nichols said.

Besides school staff and teachers, Martinez Unified School District Superintendent C.J. Cammack and Martinez Police Sgt. Fred Ferrer joined the parade.

“It was more emotional for us, our students, and families than we all anticipated,” Nichols said. “We all miss our students and hope every(one) stays safe during this difficult time!”

Inspired by activities she’d learned were happening in Europe as a way to rally during the fight against the virus, and having heard about the Morello Parks parade, Lisa Mills decided Martinez needed to celebrate its first responders – those working in the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center, at the Contra Costa County fire stations and those who are part of Martinez Police Department.

Mills is a public-sector nurse, and said she sees both the sacrifices and the uneasiness that are rising as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“Sheltering in place can be very uneasy and going to just going to get groceries, something you might never think twice about doing, might make someone think do I really need this item.  I have seen people in this awesome town help each other, getting groceries for that elderly or high-risk neighbor, offering an essential item to someone in need,” she said. ”That is just makes me feel at awe.

While some communities applaud those directly fighting the COVID-19 virus, Mills turned to Bay Area music as a way to celebrate and encourage. She chose Journey’s song, “Don’t Stop Believing,” and asked parade participants to play that song during the route.

“The significance of the song was wanting something to bring our world together, to bring happiness, hope and healing in this current world of uncertainty,” Mills said.

“Journey and their song ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ to me shows never give up, always hold onto hope,” she said. “It is a song my children and I have sung out of our car windows driving down a freeway, to instill a thought of never stop believing in yourself, your ability, to push when you’re tired and I know our first responders need this more now than ever before.”

“When I suggested the song on my Rants and Raves post, it was met with overwhelming enthusiasm and ‘yes.’ People sang in their cars as we drove down the road, my family included.”

She reached out to Corey Katz, who owns Bar Cava, who posted about the page on his own social media sites, and shared the idea with friends.

“I am grateful for his help as well as others whom reached out to their neighbors and friends.  They say it takes a village and I feel blessed to reside in Martinez,” Mills said.

She expected maybe six to 10 cars would show up Sunday evening at Alhambra High School’s parking lot, the suggested meeting place. Instead, 22 cars showed up, including one carrying Mayor Rob Schroder, Mills learned.

Even those who weren’t part of the caravan raised their voices, too, she said. “People wrote they sang in their yards, in their houses and danced around with their families.”

“ I received a call from Corey Katz asking me to be part of it, and I drove down to AHS,” Schroder said.. “After about five minutes, the parade was on and all of us filed out of the AHS parking lot, through Safeway’s lot, down Alhambra, right on Main, right on Ferry, right on Ward and then left back onto Main. I did not have the music on but many did.”

“This impromptu parade, just like the teachers’ parade , is just another example of what a close knit, proud and wonderful community we have here in Martinez,” he said.. “Even while sheltering in place we support each other emotionally and even monetarily.

“We want to make sure that others know the community at large cares about them and their families, and that this will be over some day, and hopefully sooner than later. We need to keep reminding each other and ourselves of that.”

Mills said this may be a weekly event until the danger from COVID-19 has passed. Those interested may meet at 6 p.m. each Sunday in the lower parking lot at Alhambra High School, 150 E. St.

“Covid-19 can be pretty scary and we all need to sing, dance and laugh.,” Mills said. ”I would love to hear this entire town just to be filled with music for those 15 minutes.”

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