MUSCATINE, Iowa—As Muscatine residents adjust to social distancing practices and try to keep up with the ever-changing news about COVID-19, many look for ways to maintain a sense of community in these challenging times. To help unite people even when they must stay apart, and to give area children something to enjoy, Kristin Tolle, with the help of her friends, has created the Spreading Joy Walks program.
“With all the news surrounding COVID-19 and the quarantines, the Spreading Joy Walks are a way for the community to come together and share joy and positivity with those around them, while also being socially responsible and maintaining a safe distance from others,” explained Tolle. “This is a scary and overwhelming time, and we’re hoping this is a small way that we can spread joy, instead of fear.”
With schools closed on Saint Patrick’s Day, Tolle and her friend Kari Morton wanted to find something festive for their children to do. The two helped their kids make paper shamrocks to hang in their windows and encouraged their neighbors to do the same. Then, throughout the day, various families took walks to count the four-leaf clovers and enjoy their neighbor’s creativity. After the holiday passed and Tolle took down the shamrocks, she wondered if she could keep the excitement her children felt looking for them going. Tolle’s idea lead to the Spreading Joy Walks, which have increased in popularity across town.
After receiving positive feedback from neighborhood families, about the Saint Patrick’s Day walk, Tolle began getting information out about how to participate in the walks to anyone interested. She created a Facebook group, Spreading Joy (Quarantine) Walks- Muscatine, where she shared the directions for getting in on the fun. Anyone interested can find the week’s theme on the group page every Friday, do a craft project that represents that theme, and hang it in their window or other visible location by Sunday. Then, families may take a walk or drive any time during the week to see what other participants created. For those with young children, Tolle suggests making a game of who can count the most decorations during the walk.
In its first week, over 1,000 people joined the Facebook group and many homes in Muscatine and Fruitland displayed rainbows (in keeping with the week’s theme) in their windows. Tolle felt elated that her idea has caught on and that many families enjoyed getting to participate. “My favorite part about organizing this group is hearing the stories from the members and how this event is impacting them and bringing them together,” she shared.
With school still out, Tolle hopes more local residents will consider taking part in the Spreading Joy Walks. “We would encourage everyone to participate in our Spreading Joy Walks,” she emphasized. “You can participate in multiple ways—by creating and posting your rainbows, taking a walk to enjoy the rainbows, check out other neighborhoods by taking a walk (or taking a ride in a vehicle), or simply join our group and watch the posts with the stories and photos from other members.”