How this group of P.E.I. families embarked on a COVID-19-birthday scavenger hunt

Jenna Cooke did not relish the idea of breaking the news to her soon-to-be four-year-old daughter Piper that the birthday party she had envisioned pre-pandemic might not be possible due to physical distancing measures.

As the big day approached, Cooke spoke with some close friends and realized she wasn't alone — friends had also been dreading the prospect of having to disappoint their children.

The camaraderie inspired the group to mount a scavenger hunt for their children who were celebrating their birthdays during COVID-19.

Cooke, who works as a nurse at community mental health and addictions on P.E.I., said 10 families with a total of 27 children took part in the scavenger hunt to celebrate the birthdays of five children.

My daughter, just seeing her excitement with all of her friends driving up made it really special. — Kerri-Anne Ellsworth

"I feel like they're going to remember it and maybe want a pandemic birthday every year," she said.

"They had so much fun."

Submitted by Jenna Cooke

The participating families even came up with individual themes and dressed to match.

The Cooke family decided to use the pandemic as inspiration for their theme, including their truck which they made sure to equip with a giant N95 face mask made from a plastic tablecloth from the dollar store.

"It was just kind of another way to get the kids excited and involved because they were having to stay in their cars mostly the whole time, so we thought we would get dressed up for it," Cooke said.

Other families involved decided to pay homage to essential workers or brought their princess fantasies to life.

I just am thankful for good friends and hopefully it'll be all over soon. — Jenna Cooke

Kerri-Anne Ellsworth, who originally suggested the scavenger hunt, said the event served to add some joy to a time filled with uncertainty because of COVID-19.

"My daughter, just seeing her excitement with all of her friends driving up made it really special," Ellsworth said. 

"Every year we do a joint birthday with our friends so I just thought — how can we include everyone and make every birthday kid feel special while respecting the recommendations from the public health office?" 

Submitted by Jenna Cooke

On their individual journeys through the hunt, the families took selfies at each stop to show they had been there.

The hunt included stops at the Stompin' Tom Centre in Skinner's Pond, the West Point Lighthouse and the Canadian Potato Museum in O'Leary. 

Some of the stops also included the homes of the birthday children, where they picked up celebratory treats like cupcakes and hot dogs.

"We planned it out so that everybody had their specific start time so that nobody would be at the same place at the same time, just to make sure that the social distancing was in place," Cooke said.

Cooke said friendships in the group of parents go back to high school and have proved to be a blessing during COVID-19.

Submitted by Jenna Cooke

"We always kind of got our kids together when it wasn't a pandemic, so this is the first time all the kids saw each other from afar," she said.

"I just am thankful for good friends and hopefully it'll be all over soon. But, you know, we're just trying to make the best of it."

More from CBC P.E.I.