As a mom trying to figure out a plan for her son’s sixth birthday, Josie Rock said creativity “just kind of kicks into overdrive.”
“He’s been looking forward to his birthday since the day after his birthday last year,” Rock said of her son Asher, now 6.
Asher is no stranger to the Hall County Fire Services, who along with police are his heroes. He was a firefighter for a day in March 2017, and he runs out to the corner of the yard to say hello whenever he hears the sirens pass by his home.
Plenty passed by April 16, when members of Gainesville Police, Hall County Fire Services and Georgia State Patrol drove by with flashing lights, running their sirens and wishing the boy a happy birthday over their intercoms.
The public safety parade of officers and firefighters has become a more common occurrence during the shelter-in-place order and social distancing guidelines connected to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s always emotional to me just to see how caring the community is and just to spread positivity and to bring smiles to people’s faces when there’s nothing but negative going on on the news and so much unknown going on in the world right now. To bring the smile to these innocent children’s faces and to celebrate them and show them that they’re still loved and people are still caring about them, it brings so much overwhelming emotion to a parent,” Josie Rock said.
Asher still gets excited when he hears the sirens passing through his neighborhood.
“The past few days, whenever he’s heard an ambulance, he’s like, “They’re here. They’re back.’” she said.
Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said the idea started for the department with school resource officers spending time in the community and speaking with residents while following social distancing guidelines.
“That kind of evolved into a couple of kids were having to cancel their birthday parties that initial weekend, so the officers wanted to do something special for them,” Holbrook said.
The specialized services division, which includes the community relations unit, has been handling the birthday surprises to not hinder the call-taking patrol division.
“I think the kids get a kick out of the dogs driving by and barking. The dogs always win no matter what,” Holbrook said.
Hall County Fire Services division chief Zach Brackett said firefighters from the nearest station will attend depending on the call volume.
“We’re getting more and more requests. We’re trying to accommodate them as much as possible and coordinating with law enforcement in the area … trying to make sure at least somebody goes,” Brackett said.
Gainesville Police Lt. Josh Adams and Holley Adams wanted to make their son’s birthday just like any other in the past.
“We wanted to celebrate the day and maintain some normalcy, making a big deal out of it even though we’re not going to have necessarily all the friends and family there in person,” Holley Adams said, as they also had a Zoom party with family.
Hudson, 8, was surprised to see Corvettes from Lanier Corvettes Unlimited and other classic cars strolling down his Clermont street.
“He was talking about them all the rest of the day,” Holley Adams said.
Leah Crane said it was a bit nerve wracking as a parent trying to figure out what to do for her son Eagen’s fifth birthday, especially when explaining to kids his age why they can’t have friends around or leave the house.
Eagen has congenital heart disease and other health factors that make him “high risk.”
“He hasn’t even been to the grocery store or anywhere since this all started,” Leah Crane said.
Leah Crane came up with a plan by putting a sign by the mailbox reading, “Honk, I’m 5 and stuck inside.”
Apart from people bringing gifts and water balloons, Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies came by and “made his day,” Crane said.
“It was just like a normal birthday actually, minus friends and family being there. We made the best of it, and it was a happy day, happy week for him,” she said.
It hasn’t just been younger kids who have been cooped up inside for their birthdays.
Janice Thomas’ mother, Ruby Murphy, fell ill and went into the hospital on Christmas Eve.
After a hard year, Thomas was looking for a way to “brighten her day,” as Murphy turned 95 this week.
Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies came to the driveway as Murphy watched from her doorway. Belting out from the street, a handful of deputies sang “Happy Birthday.”
“She thought it was the sweetest thing ever, and she appreciated it. She said, ‘I have done so many things that many people have not been able to. There’s not many 95-year-olds that can say they’ve had the police serenade them for their birthday,’” Thomas said.
Thomas let her mother know that thousands of people have watched a video of her birthday visit on the Hall County Sheriff’s Office social media.
“She laughed real big and she said, ‘Yeah, and I’m not even a wanted person,’” Thomas said.