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Birthday parade organizers honoured as Northern Lights

Preslie Tobler (second from left) was the first Fort Macleod resident honoured in a birthday parade. With Preslie are her sister Kenadie, mom Sydney and brother Corbyn.
Sydney Tobler and Kristi Edwards.

Two Fort Macleod residents who organized birthday parades during the COVID-19 pandemic were honoured last week by the province.

Sydney Tobler and Kristi Edwards were honoured by the Alberta Northern Lights Volunteer Program.

They were among people from Airdrie, Calgary, Edmonton, Barrhead and Fort Macleod recognized for organizing drive-by birthday parades.

Tobler and Edwards set out to provide a bright spot among the gloom that prevailed in the early days of the pandemic.

Birthday greetings were shared from people riding in the parade.

“It seemed so dreary and grey,” they explained in an interview. “It was such a dismal time of year with all the melting snow and no leaves on the trees and just brown. It seemed so bleak with no playgrounds, no school, no seeing friends or family.”

“The parades helped to give some purpose and connection even if it was at a distance. Music as loud as we could play it from our vans and our kids hooting and hollering with homemade birthday signs made it all so fun, you couldn’t help but laugh and enjoy yourself.”

The Alberta Northern Lights Volunteer Program was created to recognize people for volunteerism and community spirit.

The idea for birthday parades developed after Tobler’s daughter Preslie had her planned birthday party the first week of April cancelled after Fort Macleod schools closed.

Tobler had seen a video on-line of another community that had staged a birthday parade and contacted Edwards to discuss having one for Preslie.

They contacted Fort Macleod Fire Department and emergency medical services, as well as friends and family members before opening it up to the community.

I didn’t expect the amazing response that we got,” Tobler said. “I was also expecting some push back because of the restrictions that we had but there was none of that.”

“The outpouring of love for my daughter made me super emotional that day. It really showed how our community bands together during hard times. After that first parade I wanted to make the sure that every child in our community had the same opportunity to feel loved and cared for by their community.”

Edwards was also overwhelmed by the turn-out for that first parade, which included fire trucks and ambulances as well as people in their vehicles.

“The response for the first parade was so huge for one little girl who most of the people didn’t even know,” Edwards said. “People brought gifts and decorated their cars and were so excited to join in on such a fun and easy event. I had a hard time containing my emotions. It was a beautiful sight to see.”

Parades were planned at a set time for the following Saturdays, with people contacting Tobler and Edwards to have their address added to the list.

There was a strong response to the open invitation to participate in the parade as residents welcomed the chance to get out of the house and join a community event.

It wasn’t long before Davis Dodge added their Paw Patrol characters to the parades, and the A&W Great Root Bear also took part.

Front Line Towing had its tow trucks join the procession and some people donned Minion costumes.

At their peak, the parades attracted close to 70 vehicles.

The parades received an outpouring of appreciation from people on the receiving end, including children and seniors.

“We want to say a huge thank you to all of the community members who came out week after week,” Tobler and Edwards said. “We might have created a group and made up the routes every week but it would have been nothing without the support of all of the amazing businesses and people who came and participated.”

“This whole thing is further proof of just how fortunate we all are to live in Fort Macleod and have the amazing people who live here be a part of our lives.”

Individuals and groups  can be nominated for the Alberta Northern Lights Volunteer Program if they:

• Contribute unpaid service to the community through volunteering.
• Demonstrate community spirit.
• Serve as a role model for others in their community.

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