From dinosaur birthday parades to parties behind a porch screen, local families are finding ways to celebrate life in a socially distanced way.

This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

Sarah Hand calls it a triple disappointment.


First, the Bluewater Bay family’s spring break trip to Disney World was cut short after the theme park shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak. Then, Sarah and her husband, Justin, had to cancel a birthday cruise for their daughter Charlotte, 9. And, they already suspect social distancing won’t allow for a large birthday gathering for their younger daughter Holly, 5, in May.


And then there were three.


Sarah immediately brainstormed a way to raise their family’s morale and make Charlotte’s birthday this past week extra special – aside from the standard cake and gifts from mom and dad.


"I saw a video online of a lady who had been grocery shopping in a unicorn outfit and thought that was hilarious," Sarah said. "Went online and was able to find some costumes and were able to get them delivered right before her birthday. As soon as she saw the costumes, we had to put them on and run out the door."


Charlotte is a huge dinosaur fan, so she and Justin wore the dinosaur costumes, and Sarah and Holly wore unicorn costumes. Sarah sent a message to the neighborhood’s group text encouraging them to come outside. "You won’t be disappointed," she said.


Soon people were standing on their front lawn or porch waving, and cars were stopping in the street to snap photos.


"It was a huge hit with everybody," Sarah said. "It gave my daughter something fun and exciting to do on her birthday and gave us the opportunity to spread a little sunshine in the neighborhood. It was not our plan to go out at high noon and go parade around the neighborhood. It was a super hot day, but they were super excited and wanted to do it immediately."


Like the Hand family, Maddie Ostrowski found an eclectic way to celebrate a family milestone, her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. The Mary Esther resident drove to Pensacola on Monday to celebrate the golden anniversary of Andy and Vera Fricano with a "social distanced pizza tailgate party."


Vera has an autoimmune lung disease, so Ostrowski made physical distance a priority.


"Fifty years is an accomplishment most people don’t even do anymore," Ostrowski said. "We were trying to do something creative and special for them."


Ostrowki plotted the idea with her brother, James, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, after their parents’ cruise had to be canceled because of the pandemic.


"We made the whole day special for them," Ostrowski said. "What (James) could do on his end, first thing in the morning at 7:30, the doorbell rings at their house. He had sent over Starbucks and bagels so they could have anniversary coffee.


James sent over a steak dinner later that day and a video of his children singing to them. Ostrowski, a singer with the Northwest Florida Symphony Chorale and Stage Crafters Community Theatre, Inc., also prepared a song – in Italian.


Andy, an active member of Sons of Italy and the Italian Cultural Society, is Italian and often performs a silly rendition of Luciano Pavarotti singing "O Sole Mio," Ostrowski said. She learned the song and surprised her parents with a backyard performance, alongside a pizza with the pepperonis arranged in a heart shape, cannoli and a small group of family and friends in masks.


Her parents stayed safely behind their back porch screen.


"I got all choked up after I sung because I couldn’t hug them," Ostrowski said. "They were touched. They were really surprised and they were happy. It made the whole day special, because they were really bummed they couldn’t celebrate. My dad said he was thankful to have such thoughtful children."


Ostrowski’s parents deserve it, she said. They’ve been supportive – even when she told them she wanted to pursue an acting career.


"I had an amazing childhood," Ostrowski said. "My dad worked for the airlines. My mom was a nurse. They’re a very great example of what love is."