By Jill Fox
Celebrating birthdays during the stay-at-home order can be pretty depressing for children, but one Parkland resident is trying to change that by bringing the party to you.
It began when Denise DellaPolla and her daughter, Ava, 9, were talking about Ava’s upcoming birthday on May 7. They were feeling sorry for everyone celebrating birthdays in their homes while “sheltering-in-place” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two decided to start a caravan and drive-by people’s homes in their Heron Bay community. They chose to get the word out using Nextdoor, and began with five cars carrying their friends.
DellaPolla enlisted her close friend, Jenny Alfonso, to help with the first caravan. Alfonso’s son, Gabe, 9, wanted to dress up in a dinosaur costume, which he has continued since, and her daughter, Gigi, 7, waived balloons out the window.
DellaPolla has since reached out to the Broward Sheriff’s Office Parkland District Captain Chris Mulligan to request their participation in their birthday caravans, which now consist of 8 to 10 cars.
She said on the first day, Mulligan sent a police car, and the deputies were happy to help. Another time, BSO sent a police car and the Coral Springs Fire Department sent a fire engine and a rescue truck to participate.
“It’s such a nice way of BSO connecting with the community and making these birthdays special,” said Alfonso, who had her chance to be on the receiving end on April 9, as she turned 44.
She said seeing all of these people — whether she knew them or not — coming out to share a special day in her life made it one of her favorite birthdays.
Other neighborhoods have reached out to city officials, asking for police presence on their birthdays. MiraLago resident, Sarah Sharek said a friend of hers, who lives in Orlando had done something similar with their fire department.
“We wrote Mayor Hunschofsky an email asking if this was possible, and she forwarded it to the police department,” said Sharek, who was thrilled with the turnout for her son, Reece on Monday, and is planning the same front yard extravaganza for her younger son, Henry on April 23.
“It makes a special memory for everyone, even the participants,” said DellaPolla, who receives requests each day via Nextdoor for her 4 p.m. caravan. She said they visit two to four homes a day, and she gets so excited when she sees a police car turning the corner.
“I understand the fact that they can’t always be there, but it’s so special when they do show up,” she said.
According to Captain Mulligan, the fire and police departments are always willing to help out on a first-come, first-serve basis assuming the vehicles are available — which may not always be the case.
“These officers coming out,” Alfonso said, “It’s the icing on the cake, it’s just remarkable.”
- Jill Fox is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. She has worked in public relations and television for over 20 years. Fox lives in Parkland with her husband and their two children.