‘Birthday Bus’ helps students celebrate during quarantine

Evelina Gaivoronskaia | Staff Writer

Being separated from friends is no way to spend a birthday, but there is nothing a school bus with streamers and gifts can’t fix. 

As the quarantine continues, many kids have to spend their birthdays without even seeing their friends. Mason City Schools staff decided to resolve this issue by starting the Birthday Bus. It is a school bus that stops in front of a child’s house and gives them a goodie bag and a balloon. They provide goodie bags for other children as well and allow them to take pictures in front of the decorated bus. 

Another event that the Birthday Bus does is a birthday parade. They lead a line of cars by the student’s home, allowing them to see their friends at a safe distance. First grader Emily Hammond is one of the children who were visited by the Birthday Bus. 

“It made me feel very happy,” Emily said. “My birthday would probably have been sad if they didn’t surprise me. I want to thank them for that.” 

Emily’s mother, Kristi Hammond, said that her daughter missed being with her friends as a result of the quarantine. She said seeing the Birthday Bus brought Emily a lot of joy and made her day a lot better. 

“I was so touched,” Kristi said. “They go around and bring joy to everybody and just make people smile. I thought that was really cute. It’s just been a great experience all around for our family and I highly recommend it.” 

However, Birthday Bus team member Rebecca Witt Bate said that it doesn’t have to be somebody’s birthday for them to call the Birthday Bus. 

“We went to a little girl’s house today, but it wasn’t her birthday,” Witt Bate said. “Her mom said she’s just really struggling adjusting. She needed to see a piece of her school. It was exactly what she needed to cheer up. So I think that we as a team almost get more out of the Birthday Bus than the kids.”

Witt Bate said the team has to take great precautions when working with children. 

 “We all wear masks and we have gloves on,” Witt Bate said. “We spray any high traffic touch points multiple times a day. We always stay away from the children while they’re taking pictures. When I am handing off the balloon, I am wearing gloves and a mask. I stay as far away as possible. When we are preparing the candy and the bags we’re gloved, masked and everything has been sprayed down and sanitized.”

Witt Bate said that in a single week, they have done at least 93 stops and have about 205 scheduled for the future. Regardless if it is to celebrate a birthday or to just to cheer up a child, Witt Bate says that she very much enjoys working on the Birthday Bus and seeing the effect it has on kids, especially in these difficult times. 

“Now as we drive through town everyone honks at us, people stop and wave, and they give us a thumbs up,” Witt Bate said. “We pull up to a child’s house, neighbors come out and they’re clapping and they’re singing along cause we sing happy birthday. So there’s just nothing sad about it. There’s nothing bad about being on the Birthday Bus. It’s awesome.”

Photo by Andrea Hefferan.