On a rainy afternoon last week in Potomac, the drive up to the Sherman Early Childhood Center at Congregation Har Shalom was lined the with signs and smiles to lift the spirits of families during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 18 teachers and two members of Har Shalom clergy were spaced at 15-foot intervals, said Sheman ECC Director Beth Hoch in a phone interview on Thursday. At that distance, they felt safe to pull down their masks so the kids could recognize their teachers, whom they haven’t seen in weeks, as parents drove by. Hoch, who is also in charge of family programming at the Conservative synagogue, estimated that 40 families drove through, between 80 to 85 percent of the student body.
Teachers and clergy waved and held up home-made signs with messages like “We’re thinking about you!” and “We Miss You!” for over an hour in the rain. In addition, care packages assembled in advance by staff wearing gloves and masks contained decorative window decals, bubbles for play and Rosendorf’s challahs in their original bags. The care packages were deposited in the trunks of cars as the procession went by.
For the younger children like toddlers, it was harder to grasp what was going on, said Hoch, so some families made multiple circuits after receiving their care package to give little ones the opportunity to connect with their teachers from a distance.
The idea for the drive-through experience came from the teachers and was an expression of Har Shalom’s mission to bring joy, connection and community to families, Hoch said. She compared the set up to the drive-through birthday parties people across the community are posting on social media. She said she understood observers might be uncomfortable with the idea of non-essential interactions outside the home during this time, but that everyone involved took precautions to balance the desire to support families and respect safety guidelines.
“We made sure families and children didn’t come out of their cars, and people were safely distanced,” she said.
“For us, we felt like there are so many things parents and families are craving right now… this was an outing for them in a safe way to have a mental health boost,” she continued. “I can’t say how many families came through and said ‘I didn’t realize how much we missed this.’ They were so grateful for this opportunity for community connection.”