Colorful chalk messages, hidden stuffed animals and acts of kindness have filled the homes and streets of the Sam Hughes neighborhood in an effort to help those strolling, jogging, biking or just getting some fresh air escape the stagnant days of coronavirus quarantine.
It all began with a teddy bear and a popular children’s nursery rhyme, and has grown to around 40 stuffed animals stashed in windows, mailboxes and yards throughout the university-area neighborhood for kids to find on their evening walks with the family.
There’s even a checklist of all the hidden stuffed creatures shared with Sam Hughes Neighborhood Association members, according to Dianne Bret Harte, a retired journalist, who said the “bear hunt” was inspired by the popular children’s song bearing those lyrics.
“When families are out walking, you can look at only so many wildflowers. Now they look for bears, giraffes, sloths or whatever,” said Bret Harte, who added that she didn’t have a stuffed bear so she put up a neon-pink furry pig in her window for the neighborhood kids to find.
Claire Youderian, 7, and her sister, Bria Youderian, 5, are participants in the hunt and have joined the neighborhood chalk artists of East Third Street.
“We wrote things like ‘be kind’ and ‘stay healthy’ and ‘smile’ and then we wrote pictures and we put a stuffed animal lion in the window,” Claire said.
“It was my mom’s idea,” Bria said, adding, “Because me-me has the coronavirus and we want to help people and tell them ‘watch out because there’s germs in the air.’”
Their father, Andrew Youderian, explained that “me-me” is their great grandmother. She was diagnosed with coronavirus recently and the girls are trying to show their support.
He said the family has been enjoying the increased neighborhood interactions and more quality time in the evenings when everyone has been going on their walks.
Everyone’s been saying hello — from a safe distance.
“It’s been obviously not a great time in our society but it’s been good and there’s been lots of silver linings,” Youderian said.
For Josephine Wilson, her kids, aged 3, 5, and 7, have surrounded their home with chalk drawings.
“They really got into it,” Wilson said. “They have no idea that it’s a thing and that it has to do with coronavirus or with everyone being inside or at home so much.”
She said they were inspired by a Twitter hashtag #chalkyourwalk, which is filled with positive messages people have been drawing with chalk, all relating to the quarantine, social distancing and the pandemic.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Wilson said. “There’s not a lot for the kids to do. They can be at home. They can go for a walk around the neighborhood. They can go for bike rides.
“The silver lining to (the quarantine) is it has increased our sense of community and I think it has put more of an emphasis on walking and biking as a family and talking to other families from a safe distance,” she said.
Sharon Carman, 74, spends her days taking care of 14 chickens, two dogs, a cat, an African grey parrot, fish and a vegetable garden, but she still made time to leave a bear hanging on her mailbox for the neighborhood children to find.
“I think (the bear hunt) gives something people can look forward to and to check out,” Carman said. “I have a 4-year-old next door and I saw her and her daddy take a picture of it.”
With more people out walking, Carman said more people have been waiving to her and checking in.
Her next-door neighbors put out lemons and oranges, as well as offered to go grocery shopping for her.
Even her 80-year-old neighbor asked if he could go to the grocery store for her, to which she kindly declined, Carman said.
“It’s just kind of nice how the neighborhood has come together to support people,” Carman, 74, said.
Michael Rule, a retiree who lives along the Third Street Bicycle Boulevard, also made a sidewalk chalk poem in front of their house that says, “Social distancing ain’t no fun. We’re meant to hug, not hide and run.”
“It’s definitely a time of stress and that brings out the best and the worst,” he said. “What we see just inside our neighborhood is entirely positive.”
Every day his wife, Amy, makes an origami crane and hangs it on the door.
They now have about 20 of them.
“In Japanese culture, a crane is a sign of good luck or good fortune,” Rule said. “Anybody that comes by the door, whether they know it’s good luck or not, at least they get to see a nice colorful display.
“It’s sort of like in the depression or during war time,” Rule said. “People understand that this affects our entire community and the best way to deal with it is to be nice.”
Alana Minkler is a journalism student at the University of Arizona who is currently an apprentice for the Arizona Daily Star.
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May's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Arizona schools to reopen in August, Tucson council approves plan for funding
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