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Sugar House Journal

Parents get creative with drive-by parties during pandemic

Jun 08, 2020 11h50 ● By Drew Crawford

Drive-by parties let people celebrate, but at a safe distance. (Photo courtesy of Shelly Kaihuta)

By Drew Crawford | [email protected]

COVID-19 has inspired people around the world to come up with creative solutions to interact with each other that still adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

One of these ideas that has gained traction, the drive-by party, allows people to still celebrate their loved one’s birthday with friends and relatives while avoiding close and prolonged contact.

Shelly Kaihatu wanted to make her daughter’s 18th birthday special after prom and graduation were canceled. Mary Clare Kaihatu had been unable to see her friends in weeks and her mom wanted to make sure that she would be able to celebrate in a memorable way that would involve meaningful interaction with her friends. She had originally planned for a party over the video conference platform Zoom, but when she became aware of drive-by parties, she was inspired to throw one for Mary Clare.

“My daughter was feeling isolated from her friends so I said, ‘Let’s just do the drive-by, that way you can actually see faces,’” Shelly explained. 

Shelly was unsure of what to expect from Mary Clare’s party, but the turnout greatly exceeded her expectations and was an exciting change for her daughter who had been spending all of her time inside. 

“We planned this drive-by party and pretty much invited everyone that we know—her friends as well as my friends. We did an Evite and then invited neighbors. We had one set of friends that rode their bikes up from Millcreek, we had neighbors walking by, and tons of people that drove down,” Shelly recounted, expressing how she was overwhelmed by the support.

Shelly decorated her front porch with birthday posters and coned off the section in front of her house so that people could drive by slowly, and as each car took its turn passing by the house, Mary Clare would pass out candy from a table that held bags of goodies. All of the cars that passed in front of the house were decorated with birthday signs and celebratory messages.

“At one point there was so many cars that people would circle back around as they would drive by. She just spent a few minutes talking to everyone, and everybody was asking her what she had done for the day,” her mom said. 

Shelly wanted the experience to be unforgettable for her daughter, and she was inspired by her friend Shana Kempton (full disclosure: the aunt of this reporter) who threw a similar kind of party for her daughter Mera’s 2-year birthday. 

“I wanted Mera to have that experience of a second birthday party and we just decided to send out an invitation for a drive-by, stroll by party, and that’s the party. We just tweaked it so it would be outside, but it was actually, I would say more fun because it involved the community instead of just a few of her friends and her parents,” Kempton said. “It was a whole group energy.”

Kempton designed Elmo-themed cupcakes and put effort into how the set-up of the party would be arranged by creating a roped off 6-foot barrier with her family on one side and guests on the other.

“We had speakers, a microphone and the guitar and instruments, because we love music, and that’s what we do is play music, and she just learned ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star,’ and so we kept practicing it. So that was the first thing: we came out here and had the music blasting and our neighbors down the street could hear it,” Kempton said.

The hosts received positive feedback for their creative party planning. 

“As one of my friends said, ‘It’s so great to see your neighborhood and community come together to celebrate your sweet daughter’s birthday,’” Kempton said. “There’s something special about in the face of this virus, in the face of death, we’re still going to celebrate life and have joy in human interaction and celebrate each other’s milestones.”