It’s not easy turning four in the midst of a COVID-19 lockdown.
Just ask Sammy Salt of Whapmagoostui, Que., who just couldn’t understand why there wasn’t going to be a big party to celebrate her birthday with all her many friends, cousins and grandparents.
“She just kept saying, ‘You guys are going to give me a surprise … I’m going to cover my eyes and you guys are going to give me a surprise party,'” said mom Amy Salt, by phone from the most northern of the Cree communities in Quebec.
“We felt really bad because she’s our baby and of course we would have had a huge celebration for her,” said Salt.
But because of the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19, Cree families — like families everywhere — are being asked not to gather in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness.
She doesn’t understand the situation right now.– Amy Salt, Whapmagoostui mom
“Obviously, she doesn’t understand the situation right now,” said Salt.
Fortunately, local Whapmagoostui Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF) officers and local firefighters were able to come to the rescue Wednesday — quite literally.
Drive-by party with sirens and songs
The police and fire departments in the fly-in community of more than 1,000 people located on the shore of Hudson Bay, have started organizing birthday greetings with sirens and songs.
Watch the drive-by parade in action:
Emergency services in Whapmagoostui are inviting residents to let them know about any children up to the age of 12 who are celebrating a birthday during the pandemic.
“The police know that children are not on the streets and they are mostly cooped up in their house,” said Steven Boudrias, a lieutenant with the Eeyou Eenou police in Whapmagoostui.
Something we can do for the kids in our community.– Steven Boudrias, EEPF lieutenant
Boudrias said he was inspired by a story of a boy in the United States, who was sad about the cancellation of his party, until his father reached out to local police there.
“So I said, well there is something we can do for the kids in our community,” Boudrias said. He also feels it will perhaps help children see police as more of an ally.
“They’re going to see the police in a different [light] — it’s not that we always go to take care of a problem,” said Boudrias.
Officers and firefighters also took their birthday drive-by greetings to another home a few streets away where Braydon Niviaxie was turning seven.
“He didn’t know they were going to come by,” said Niviaxie’s mom, Lyanne Fleming, through Facebook Messenger.
“I had chills and a lump in my throat when I saw two cop cars and firefighters coming to say happy birthday,” said Fleming.
“His reaction was priceless.”
‘Made it a memorable one for her’
It was a similar reaction for four-year-old Salt.
“When she realized they were there to wish her a happy birthday, she was really proud,” her mom said. “I could see it in her face and the way she smiled at them. They’ve made it a memorable one for her.”
Both children received a bicycle helmet from police and a ball cap and colouring books from firefighters.
The EEPF and the Whapmagoostui Fire Department are inviting anyone in town who would like to arrange a drive-by party to contact them at 819-929-3316.
The Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay has put together a list of how to help children through the stress of the current COVID-19 situation. You can find it and other resources here.