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A socially-distant birthday celebration to remember

Lauren Gilmore holds a sign for classmate Ava

Lauren Gilmore holds a sign for classmate Ava Gabbe outside her Oceanside home for her 12th birthday celebration.  Credit: Marcella Abbott

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Ava Gabbe of Oceanside really wanted to spend her 12th birthday eating pizza, making terrariums and eating cake with 12 of her friends from school.

But when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a ban on public gatherings to stop the spread of COVID-19, her mom canceled it.

“She was devastated,” her mother Michelle Gabbe said. “She loves getting together with her friends."

On Saturday, Michelle got a text from one of her fellow mom friends to stand outside their Cleveland Avenue home with Ava at 5 p.m.

The Gabbes went outside to see a parade of about 10 cars lined up outside their house beeping their horns and a group of screaming sixth-grade girls with handmade cards and balloons.

Gabbe said her neighbors came out to see what all the ruckus was about and the whole street sang “Happy Birthday” to Ava.

Ava was so happy and was “jumping up and down,” her mom said. “This was just over-the-top. This was fabulous.”

Ethan Mancuso, also of Oceanside, was “floored” to see the same celebration outside his house after he was sad that his 10th birthday party at SkyZone with 15 of his friends was canceled because of the virus outbreak.

“He was really looking forward to it,” said his mother Alyssa Mancuso, who works as a guidance counselor at Nassau BOCES in the special education department.

She received a text from a friend to stand outside her house with Ethan at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

“They’re honking, they had silly string, streamers, balloons,” she said. “I was hysterical, crying.”

Mancuso said Ethan was so surprised, “that just made his day.”

“It was a struggle because you want to go and give them hugs and thank them but you couldn’t. We had to stand on our front stoop and blow them kisses from there,” Mancuso said of the social distancing guidelines that require individuals to be at least 6 feet apart to minimize the spread of the virus.

The organizer behind the “drive-by birthday parties” was friend Theresa Henriquez, whose daughter is one of Ava’s friends.

It started off with a drive to deliver handmade cards for Ava on her birthday, but Henriquez thought, “Why don’t we get in our cars and honk horns and wish her a happy birthday?”

In an effortless group text with other moms of Ava’s friends, they all planned the celebration in less than a day. She said it was easy to plan because “everyone was on board.”

“We made quite the ruckus,” Henriquez said. “There’s nothing like making a kid feel special on their birthday.”

She said she has three more requests next month for more drive-by birthday celebrations.

Both moms say they still plan to make it up to their children and have a big birthday party later in the year.

“This could be a trend. Even after this pandemic that we’re dealing with, this might be something we might implement more,” Gabbe said.

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