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Random acts of kindness make quarantine easier to bear

Library Media Technician for Calavara Hills Elementary School Lindsay Rudy reads "Creepy Carrots!" to Hailey Rutledge, 10, left, and her sisters Mia, 8, center, and Kate, 6, while in front of the Rutledge family's home on Friday March 27, 2020 in Carlsbad, California.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

From Chula Vista to Oceanside, local residents spreading gifts, food, art and good cheer

When Stephanie Magna was feeling a little blue last Wednesday, she wrote a brief post to her neighbors on the Nextdoor app, hoping a few of her fellow house-bound moms might commiserate and share some suggestions.

Instead, more than 60 strangers in Magna’s Chula Vista neighborhood stepped up to make Wednesday one of the best days of the 29-year-old mom’s life.

Wednesday was her son Axel’s seventh birthday and, because she is 32 weeks pregnant, Magna’s doctor told her not to leave the house until the quarantine is over. With her husband at work, she couldn’t go out to buy her son a cake, balloons or decorations.

This coverage of the coronavirus pandemic is part of your subscription to The San Diego Union-Tribune. We also provide free coverage as a service to our community.

No problem, her neighbors said. They’d take care of that. One woman, Anna N. Zuniga, insisted on driving to the supermarket and had a birthday cake personalized for Axel. Another woman left a bag of birthday gifts on Magna’s porch. Others texted song files and posted decorating ideas, encouragement and birthday wishes on Nextdoor. And over the weekend, a woman had several gifts shipped to Axel via Amazon and two other people who read about the family on Nextdoor offered Magna a set of Legos and a bicycle and helmet for Axel if she could find someone to pick them up.

A collage of photos of Axel Magna of Chula Vista celebrating his seventh birthday on Wednesday, March 25, thanks to the generosity of neighbors on the family's Nextdoor app.
(Courtesy photos)

“I cried so hard,” Magna said. “I thought maybe someone would send a comment or two with birthday wishes for my son. Instead, my son had the best birthday he ever had. It showed us that there’s hope in the world and that even if you don’t know them, there are lots of good people out there who want to help you.”

Stories abound about selfish toilet paper hoarders and partiers who have spoiled the parks and beaches for the rest of us. But Magna’s experience about the selflessness of strangers is not unique. Everywhere in San Diego County, people are stepping up to brighten others’ days with random acts of kindness and community spirit. Here are 10 of those stories.

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Library Media Technician for Calavera Hills Elementary School Lindsay Rudy reads "The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors" to children while in front of their home on Friday March 27, 2020 in Carlsbad, California.
(Hayne Palmour IV/Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Lindsay Rudy is confident she has the best job in the world as a library media technician at Calavera Hills Elementary in Carlsbad. Or at least she did until schools closed two weeks ago.

“My job let me interact with all of the kids at the school. But when the school closed, I missed the personal contact and seeing all those children’s faces every day,” she said.

So, when Rudy saw a post online last week that one Calavera student’s family was planning a picnic in the driveway, she had a brainstorm. Why not provide the family with some entertainment by offering to drop by and read some storybooks from a safe social distance?

Over the past week, Rudy has offered her free “drive-by storytelling” services to several Carlsbad families. By appointment, she will show up on porches, driveways, sidewalks and cul-de-sacs to read a few grade-school level books before heading on her way. On Thursday, she had three appointments. On Friday, there were five.

Rudy brings along a chair and six books, including several California Young Reader Medal nominees. Children can choose what she reads, but so far the heavy favorites are Drew Daywalt’s “The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors” and Mo Willems’ “Elephant and Piggie” book series.

“It has filled my heart so much,” Rudy said. “Reading is a passion of mine, so I plan to continue doing this as long as people ask me to so I can continue seeing the joy these books bring to children’s faces.”

To sign up for an appointment, visit Rudy’s Facebook page at facebook.com/lindzrudy.

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San Diego residents Geno Carr and Nancy Snow Carr with their 4-year-old son, Elliott, in a still from a video of them singing "What a Wonderful World" that's gone viral on Facebook.
(Courtesy photo)

Over the past two weeks, Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado has been posting videos on its Facebook page featuring several of its regular performing artists. The Apart Together Cabaret series was dreamed up by associate artistic director Deborah Gilmour Smyth to keep audiences engaged and entertained.

Earlier this month, Gilmour Smyth asked married performers Nancy Snow Carr and Geno Carr of Allied Gardens if they’d like to make a video. The result has become a viral sensation. Since it was posted on March 23, the Carrs’ one-take, a cappella, backyard performance of “What a Wonderful World” with their 4-year-old son, Elliott, has racked up more than 18,000 views and has been shared 65 times.

The couple, who were co-starring in Lamb’s Players’ “Alice” musical until it was forced to close March 14 due to COVID-19 measures, said they’re stunned by the video’s popularity. Nancy thinks it’s the song itself. Popularized in 1967 by Louis Armstrong, it offers a hopeful message for hard times. She said they chose it because Elliott had been singing it around the house for weeks after memorizing it for church.

“We just wanted to share this as a little gift. We didn’t think it was that big a deal,” said Geno, who recently spent 2-1/2 years in the original Broadway cast of the La Jolla Playhouse-born musical “Come From Away.” “This was our way of doing something positive, making that little ripple that will spread out. Those little acts of kindness will make people smile, give them hope and a moment of joy.”

To see the video and many others, visit Lamb’s Players’ Facebook page at Facebook.com/LambsPlayers.

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Reidy Creek Elementary School first grade teacher Desiree Brown greets students as her teacher caravan from the school passes by students and parents parked along Conway Drive, near North Avenue on Friday, March 27.
(Charlie Neuman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Last Friday, more than 20 teachers from Reidy Creek Elementary took part in a 45-minute auto parade through the neighborhood surrounding the Escondido school. The route map was sent to students’ parents on Thursday so they could find a spot along the route to wave to their teachers from a safe distance.

The Reidy Creek teachers were among hundreds around San Diego County who have been organizing car cavalcades over the past week so they could see their students and keep their own spirits up.

Reidy Creek serves 670 students, and principal Kelly Mussatti said that when she put out the news about the planned parade to families, she was heartened by the enthusiastic response.

“We have had a lot of parents who are really excited and teachers who are really excited,” Mussatti said. “Teachers are already reaching out to kids through Zoom (an online meetings app), but it’s not the same as face to face.”

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Fallbrook theater producer Doug Davis prepares to cook a pork chop dish that won a cooking contest he and his partner Randall Hickman launched on Facebook in mid-March.
(Courtesy of Randall Hickman)

Fallbrook actors and theater producers Randall Hickman and Douglas Davis have continuously staged theater for children and adults in North County year-round since 1992. But their streak of continuous live shows was broken this month by the COVID-19 crisis.

At first, Hickman and Davis began posting silly photos and stories online about the their daily activities during their “forced furlough,” including housekeeping, yard work and catching up on the “Harry Potter” movies. But then, figuring families stuck at home were just as bored as they were, they got creative.

Two weeks ago, they held an online contest called “Crafting with Crap,” where followers were asked to invent and photograph something made from a list of trash items like a stick, a piece of tape and bit of cloth. The prize was a $5 Starbucks card. And last week, they hosted a Comfort Food Challenge, where they selected four of 13 submitted recipes for a home bakeoff that was chronicled on Hickman’s Facebook page. The winner, who submitted a pork chop and stuffing recipe, received a $50 restaurant gift card. The duo plan to keep the chronicle going as long as their forced furlough continues.

“Originally this whole thing started as something for me to pass the time. I am easily bored,” Hickman said. “But, it’s turned into something that is making people laugh and interact with each other. Doug and I may not be able to connect one on one, but we have found an online way to keep doing what we do, which is entertain. That is a great feeling.”

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Avery Guyader, 11, beautifies the driveway of her family's Pacific Beach home during a Chalk the Walk event last weekend.
(Courtesy of Kim Julin Guyader)

On March 19 and 20, Pacific Beach was one of several San Diego County communities that encouraged cooped-up residents to get outdoors and decorate their driveways and sidewalks with chalk art. The grassroots “Chalk the Walk” events were created to spread positivity with uplifting pictures and words during the pandemic crisis.

Among those to heed the call were 11-year-old Avery Guyader, a fifth-grader at Pacific Beach Elementary School, who spent three hours on one of those days drawing trees, rainbows flowers and messages like “Peace,” “Smile” and “We’ll get through this together” on her driveway.

Avery’s mom, Kim Julin Guyader, said the experience was a positive one for the whole family, which includes her husband, Henri, and 15-year-old daughter Riley.

“Every single parent in America right now is struggling to keep our kids busy and engaged and off screens. Avery tends to be very artistically inclined, so this was a very positive way to spend some time out in the fresh air for a few hours,” Kim said.

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Encinitas resident Tiffany Fox has converted the Little Free Library in front of her home into a food pantry for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
(Courtesy of Tiffany Fox)

Five years ago, Tiffany Fox received a Little Free Library from her grandfather, who built it to keep his granddaughter’s spirits up while she was undergoing chemotherapy.

Ever since, the Encinitas resident has kept the cupboard in front of her home stocked with free books for both children and adults, and many neighbors have also anonymously added their own used books to its shelves.

But after the COVID-19 crisis put thousands of local residents out of work, Fox converted the top shelf of her library case into a food pantry with a note for laid-off workers to take what they need.

To her surprise, the very next morning someone had removed the rest of the books and placed them in a covered tub at the foot of the library case, then filled the rest of the library with additional groceries. Since then, some items have been taken, and some replaced, but nobody has left it empty.

The owners of the Little Free Library at Armstrong and Batista streets in Clairemont have also recently replaced their books with food items, including flour, rice, peanut butter, canned goods and cocoa. They also placed a cooler nearby filled with diapers, toilet paper and baby food.

Fox, who is director of communication for UC San Diego Department of Surgery, said the outpouring of goodness she has seen is emotionally moving.

“It’s been so inspiring as I’ve seen it ramp up,” said Fox, 44. “To me, it’s like this has always been there, but it took a crisis for all these acts of kindness to happen, when we could have been doing it all along.”

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Inspired by the children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” families in Ocean Beach have been placing stuffed teddy bears in the front windows and front porches of their homes over the past week. The goal is to give bored schoolkids a way to take part in a scavenger hunt while still following social distancing rules.

The hunt was launched on the “Ocean Beach!!!” group page on Facebook, which has 12,000 members.

A similar teddy bear scavenger hunt is being organized in Chula Vista and dozens more are taking place in cities around the country.

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Carlsbad residents Brook and Joe Larios planned to celebrate their daughter Madeleine’s fourth birthday in style last week at a local park, with an invited guest list of all of Madeleine’s preschool classmates, an elephants and pigs theme and a catered lunch.

When the quarantine was announced, the party was postponed. But with the help of neighbors and friends, Madeleine still had a birthday to remember. Via the Nextdoor app, the Larioses were able to collect a variety of child’s birthday decorations for the day. And instead of gifts, they asked their daughter’s preschool friends to send cellphone videos with birthday wishes.

“What we received was an outpouring of celebratory messages, including a staged happy birthday song and dance from a friend in her class donning a leotard, cape and birthday crown with a ‘Happy Birthday, Madeleine’ banner as a backdrop,” said Brook. “Another school friend made a beautiful drawing asking Madeleine to be her best friend.”

Another Carlsbad mom, Aimee Clark, organized a similar birthday “party” for her daughter, Maya Le Clark, on Saturday.

Instead of the carnival the Clarks had planned for Maya’s ninth birthday, they asked her friends’ families to decorate the cars and drive by the family’s home on Saturday afternoon and then take part in a communal, though socially distanced, singalong of “Happy Birthday.”

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Seniors are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, and two local residents say their senior status has brought them a windfall of kindness from children in recent weeks.

Carol Davis of La Mesa said she was walking in her neighborhood last week when she stopped to talk to some neighbors she’d never met. After sharing stories of how they were coping with home confinement, the couple’s toddler daughter asked which house Davis lived in, so she pointed it out. The next day, the family came by and dropped off a card that the girl had made for Davis, who said: “It brought tears to my eyes.”

M. Eliane Weidauer of Oceanside said she and her husband have become the adopted “senior neighbors” of a 10-year-old neighbor girl named Harley.

“She drops little things in our mailbox like a Ziploc bag with a little chocolate bar, a tea bag and a microwave popcorn,” Weidauer said. “She also made us a St. Patrick’s Day card with ‘Stay Strong’ written inside.”


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