CORONAVIRUS

How window art is allowing heart to heart connections in a time of social distancing

A bear hangs in the front door of a house on Grande Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Neighbors ac
A bear hangs in the front door of a house on Grande Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Neighbors across the nation are placing hearts and teddy bears in their windows both as a way to engage kids who are stuck at home and as a sign of solidarity during this time of social isolation. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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A simple idea from the Heartland, posted on Facebook fewer than two weeks ago, is touching hearts in all 50 states, nearly 50 countries, and most continents — even Antarctica.

It’s touching hearts throughout Eastern Iowa, as well. Homemade hearts are popping up in residential windows, store fronts and on sidewalks, from Dubuque to Keokuk, and all around the Corridor.

Krista Wynes, 48, of Galesburg, Ill., ran across a Facebook post on March 21, showing a white house with a big red paper heart in the window, with the invitation to create a virtual scavenger hunt for hearts.

Thinking this was a “really cool” idea, she decided to see if her boys, ages 8 and 11, would like to do that, then see if others would, too.

So later that day, she created the Heart Hunters Facebook group — and it went viral, in a healthy way.

More than 600,000 people have jumped onboard, making hearts simple to elaborate, out of everything from construction paper to cereal boxes, sidewalk chalk drawings to digital signs — even lighting up rural roadways, the top of a radio tower — and the sides of otherwise empty high-rise hotels. The Niagara Heart of Hope project features lighted hearts cascading down the sides of hotels and casinos on the Canadian side of the Falls.

“I can’t say it’s because of Heart Hunters, but I can’t say it’s not,” Wynes said.

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In addition to all the Facebook posts showing hearts in so many places, it’s also spurring people to create their own family or community scavenger hunts to look for hearts, teddy bears and rainbows in windows, bringing sunshine to brighten social distancing days.

Mount Vernon has a Community Bear Hunt in progress until at least Friday, with bears perched in residential and business windows. And in Tipton, a Window Walk is underway, with decorations changing every few days, from hearts to kind words. Today (4/1) it changes to beautiful flowers.

“It is mind-boggling,” Wynes said, “and it is just completely insane to think that we have that many members that have joined our group and want to participate. It makes me so happy. It’s brought me actually tears of joy several times from scrolling through and looking at people’s posts and private messages.

“I’ve had lots of people message me and tell me how thankful they are that I started this group. It’s given them time to forget about all the outside problems and the coronavirus that’s going on — especially people that are sick or elderly, shut-in, can’t get out for whatever reason. Those are the ones that it’s really touching, because if they can’t go out on their own scavenger hunt, they can still virtually look through everybody’s windows and see the hearts. It’s phenomenal.”

One comment, however, touched her profoundly.

“One woman said: ‘It’s like the whole world stopped for one day and everyone just started posting hearts.’ And I just thought that kind of summed up what I really wanted this all to be.”

She’s shocked by the global outreach that took off “like wildfire” from her western Illinois town of 33,000 residents. She’s had to enlist two friends to help her moderate the Facebook group, since the task is too big for one person.

“We’re just a small-sized town that I never ever imagined would be put on the map for something like this,” she said. “I started this group, but if people had not shared and shared and shared, we would have never become what we are.”

The people who are participating in rural areas where few people would see their hearts especially touches Wynes’ heart.

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“They had absolutely no reason to participate, but the heart is a symbol of love and to me, some unity, because every human has a heart inside of them, so it’s something we all share, and we can share it this way, which to me is just a fabulous thing.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.