Utahns find creative ways to celebrate safely during coronavirus

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lydia Porter, 14, and Ben Porter, 9, wave as teachers drive through their neighborhood in Stansbury Park Friday, March 27, 2020.

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Members of the Porter family got ready. They lined their folding chairs along the sidewalk, bundled up in sweaters and had fruit snacks and Goldfish crackers in hand. When the sound of honking got closer, they stood up and grabbed the signs they’d made.

“They’re coming!” Kami Porter said as her six children, ages 10 months to 14 years old, scrambled to see the parade heading down their street.

Teachers and staff from Stansbury Park Elementary School drove in a line of cars, golf carts and a bicycle decorated with streamers and balloons Friday morning, waving and cheering as they went by their students’ houses.

“We miss you!” they yelled.

Stansbury Park is among the schools that have temporarily dismissed across the state as part of efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Principal Ronda Silva knows it hasn’t been easy on children, so when one of the school’s teachers suggested the parade as a way to “cheer up their students,” they started planning.

“We’re really hoping it will kind of lift their spirits," Silva said, “and they’ll see we’re still here for them and excited to see them."

Teachers and students held up signs for one another to see. The adults’ signs read, “Don’t worry, be happy” and “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” Lydia Porter, 14, held one that said, “2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate? Our teachers!” Sam Porter was excited to see his name included on a piece of paper on the back of his teacher’s car.

“That was fun,” Ben Porter said as the parade ended. He helped his family pack up and return home. Kami Porter said she appreciated the change of pace and getting to see the love between the teachers and their students during this tough time.

The parade was just one of the ways that Utahns have found to still safely get together as government and health officials limit group sizes and encourage social distancing. In Herriman, a bride and groom had a drive-by wedding reception with family and friends. A 90-year-old man drove through his Orem neighborhood to celebrate his birthday. And Riverton residents lined up their cars and honked their horns as a missionary returned home.

“We’ve all been so cooped up lately," said Tara Hollandsworth, who filmed the Herriman celebration. People are “hungry for the bright spots, the stories of people trying to to still get together in a safe way ... and feel the togetherness and feel the love.”

‘Coolest reception ever’

Ryan and Brennen Jones sent out 400 invitations for their March 20 wedding. But as they got closer to the date, they realized that wouldn’t be possible with the coronavirus. Only eight people were allowed at their “sealing” in the Draper Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And their wedding reception was canceled.

“My parents were feeling really bad," Brennen Jones said. " ... They still wanted us to have somewhat of a celebration."

When the couple returned home from the temple, “we saw a huge line of cars leading up to my house,” Brennen Jones said. The guests honked and congratulated them. Some threw rolls of toilet paper, a coveted wedding gift during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hollandsworth and her 13-year-old son, Isaac Hollandsworth, grabbed their camera and drone to film the celebration. “The more cars that would go by, the louder it would get,” she said.

“People loved it,” Ryan Jones said. She had people tell her, “I’m in my sweats right now. This is the coolest reception ever!”

The Joneses still want to have a wedding reception later this year, hopefully when things settle down. But “it was nice to see everybody," Brennen Jones said, “and celebrate and have as much of a party as we can right now.”

Spaced out homecoming

Ethan Borg wasn’t ready to leave Thailand just yet, but he had to as the Utah-based LDS Church returned hundreds of missionaries home amid the global outbreak of novel coronavirus. It’s been difficult, his mother, Adrienne Borg, said, but it was nice to be able to welcome him back.

Just before 6 p.m. Tuesday, cars started to park along the streets leading to the Borgs’ home in Riverton. Helen and Jeremy Young picked a spot on the sidewalk with their children, Zachary, 12, and Kiley, 14. When they saw the white Ford Explorer approaching, they held up their sign.

Ethan Borg waved from the back seat at the crowd as his parents drove him home from the airport. People honked their horns and cheered. They yelled, “Hi, Ethan!” and “We missed you!” Yellow ribbons were tied on trees and mailboxes. A welcome banner hung on the house with Thailand flags scattered across the lawn.

Family members kept their distance as they went to each cluster and thanked everyone for coming. It was important to Marty and Adrienne Borg to welcome their son home “the right way” and keep everyone safe as they celebrated.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Neighbors Zachary and Kiley Young cheer as Elder Ethan Borg drives by on his way home from the airport, as he returns from his LDS mission in Thailand, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

90th birthday parade

Jane Hayashi likes to throw a birthday party for her dad, Milton Eatchel, every year. This year was going to be a big one, Milton’s 90th birthday. Relatives were flying in from out of state. But with the spread of the coronavirus, they decided to cancel because they didn’t want to take “any chance of people getting sick.”

When their neighbors in Orem found out, they organized a birthday parade, spreading the word for people to come out of their homes at 11:30 a.m. on March 18. Hayashi drove Eatchel around to see everybody. Some had signs; others ran gifts up to the car.

“It was just so sweet,” Hayashi said. “... He was really touched.” Eatchel had “no clue” that his neighbors were going to do that. He kept asking Hayashi, “How are they doing this? How do they know about this?”

More than a week later, Eatchel is still talking about it, Hayashi said. “He was pretty overwhelmed. He was pretty happy about it. He loved it.”

(Photo courtesy of Jane Hayashi) Jane Hayashi with her father, Milton Eatchel. When the family had to cancel Eatchel's 90th birthday party because of coronavirus, people in their Orem neighborhood held signs and cheered March 18 as Hayashi drove Eatchel around.