A NONSTOP (CAR) PARADE OF SMILES
As they waited for the car parade from Friendship Circle to arrive, Fran and her grandson, Yitzy, took turns holding a sign they had made for the occasion. It read “We miss and we love you Friendship Circle,” and it encapsulated every emotion they and those who participated in the car parade felt that morning.
As the police cars, fire truck, ambulance and cars decorated with streamers came up their block, people inside shouted at them “Hi Fran! Hi Yitzy! We miss you.”
“We miss you. Happy Mother’s Day,” Yitzy, 5, shouted back, waving his sign for all to see.
Nearby, his grandmother stood, smiled and waved as her eyes misted with joy. “You’re gonna make me cry,” she said.
It was a scene repeated countless times over two weeks as with a blare of a siren and a honk of a horn, police cars led caravans of brightly festooned automobiles through the streets of Livingston, Short Hills, Millburn, West Orange and Caldwell to bring joy to dozens of children with special needs.
At each stop, Friendship Circle families stood at the base of their driveway to wave and cheer as the car parade drove past their homes. Sometimes their neighbors joined in, watching from their own doorways and driveways.
Even Cookie Monster, aka volunteer Ruby Schechner, made an appearance, tossing packages of cookies to the children from her seat in the back of a convertible.
“As hard as social isolation is for most people during this pandemic, it is impossibly difficult for people with special needs. Many parents report this has been devastating to their children, and that their behavioral challenges are greatly exacerbated by social isolation and disruption to their daily routine,” said Friendship Circle CEO Zalman Grossbaum. “What better way to ‘visit’ our families, while ensuring social distancing, than through a car parade with some of our local volunteers and law enforcement heroes!”
In West Orange, local officials took the opportunity to make the FC car parade a way for the township to mark Autism Awareness Month, which is traditionally held in April when the world was locked down due to the virus.
Among those who welcomed the Short Hills parade was 23-year-old Julian Reiss, an FC participant. “The parade was good because it showed people care about me and I am not alone,” Julian said.
“This was so wonderful, thank you,” said Maya Kukes, whose son, Leo, participates in Friendship Circle. “Our family was smiling!”
It wasn’t just the participants who felt their spirits soar, those who participated in the car parade noted how much it meant to them to contribute.
“The car parade was truly amazing,” said Ella Mordecai, a teen volunteer who participated in the Livingston car parade and brought her whole family with her. “It really reflected how the Friendship Circle community looks out for each other in good times and bad, and it really felt great to bring a smile to those families even while driving by.