Lights, cars, action: Vergennes boosts morale
VERGENNES — Every evening at 7 p.m. since March 26 up to two-dozen residents have gathered in the Vergennes Union Elementary School parking lot.
Yes, they are observing the social-distancing measures officials, including Vergennes leaders, recommend during the COVID-19 pandemic — in fact, they don’t get out of their vehicles.
Instead, they wave at one another, and when the time is right they take off together on a parade through most of the city’s downtown neighborhoods, honking their horns and banging pots and pans.
And they are greeted by residents of more than half the homes, who come out on porches or into front yards to play saxophones, bang their own pots and pans, wave flags — do whatever they can to take a break from staying inside all day to flatten the coronavirus curve.
It’s the loudest and most obvious expression of solidarity and morale-boosting that Vergennes officials have encouraged to help citizens get through the tough times and measures the pandemic is imposing on them.
Residents have also hung banners and lights, put hearts and signs on lawns, and placed teddy bears in windows, according to Vergennes Mayor Jeff Fritz, a nightly driver in the line of cars.
Fritz said the makeshift parade, which drew 28 cars on Sunday evening, lets people know they’re not alone and gives them a chance to come out and express themselves.
“It’s really about letting off some steam. And what I’ve heard repeatedly from parents is something for the kids to look forward to,” Fritz said.
He and new city recreation coordinator Kim Buckley have worked hard to promote all the actions through social media.
“The mayor and recreation director are doing a great job,” said City Manager Dan Hofman at last week’s meeting of the Vergennes Area Covid-19 Response Group.
But as Fritz tells it citizens really sparked the effort.
“Some of the residents on South Maple streets started going out on their front porches a couple weeks ago and clanging and banging,” Fritz said. “I got a text message from Eliza Benton that said if you’re not doing anything we’re out making noise on the street. So I went down and took a video of their clanging and banging, and it went on Facebook.”
Fritz said it spread from there.
“The next thing you know the residents of South Water Street, who are pretty well organized anyway, because they have a block party every year, it’s a great group of folks there, they joined in. And it’s sort of gone viral since then,” Fritz said. “We are encouraging people to put their kids in their cars, get their pots and pans, queue up with us, and join the route.”
On Wednesday night last week the Vergennes and Vermont State police escorted the parade.
“They just sort of showed up, which I thought was amazing,” Fritz said.
On another night a Vergennes fire truck led the parade.
“People love a fire truck,” Fritz said.
While driving the route Fritz said he has been happy to see residents observe social distancing guidelines.
“People don’t leave their porches or their immediate yards,” he said. “We can say with certainty people are being responsible.”
Most city homes also have lights, signs, banners, chalked driveways, rainbows or other signs of support for the cause.
“More than half of every house in town has something,” Fritz said.
Fritz said he will continue driving every evening at 7 p.m. until someone tells him not to.
“It’s just a little tiny thing we can all look forward to,” he said.