Spreading birthday card love in the time of coronavirus

International News

This photo provided by Mona Helgeland in Ålgård, Norway, shows a birthday card made by an American from Idaho and member of the Facebook group “Random Acts of Kindness” for her daughter Kristine, who is about to celebrate her 17th birthday. Helgeland appealed to members of the virtual group to send birthday wishes to her daughter, who was disappointed that her party had to be canceled due to coronavirus concerns. (Mona Helgeland via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Mona Helgeland was sad for her children. Their birthdays were coming up but they were self-quarantined because of the coronavirus and going to miss celebrating with friends and family.

So, the Norwegian single mother of two went on Facebook groups and asked people to send greeting cards. She said she has been “blown away by the kindness.” In just a few days since that first post, she has received dozens of cards from across the world – from Alaska to South Africa.

“It’s beautiful. I started crying,” Helgeland, 37, said about the cards that some have posted with drawings of her son’s favorite Japanese cartoon characters, or cows, zebras and hearts, as well as photos from the studio where they make the Harry Potter films that her children love.

To Helgeland, who has a painful spinal joint disorder called ankylosing spondylitis, the message during these uncertain times is clear: “It’s important to stay positive and take care of each other and spread love, not just the virus.”

Tens of millions of people were hunkered down Tuesday. Countries across the globe shut their borders, and cities locked down, closing schools and businesses to try to curb the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 190,000 people and killed more than 7,500.

The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but severe illness is more likely in the elderly and people with existing health problems. More than 80,000 people have recovered from the illness.

Amid the grim news Helgeland has seen goodness, one card at a time.

“They’re making the effort, going out of their way for someone they don’t even know,” Helgeland said in an interview via videoconferencing. “I’m blown away by their kindness.”

Helgeland lives with her family in Ålgård, about 300 miles (480 kilometers) southwest of the Norwegian capital of Oslo. The town is best known for an amusement park, its wood and textile industries, and for being the birthplace of Havard “Kickalicious” Rugland. The placekicker’s YouTube video in 2012 went viral and led to several tryouts with NFL teams.

Norway recently announced measures to try to halt the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 1,400 people and killed 3 in the Scandinavian country. King Harald V, several members of the royal family and some government members have protectively been put in quarantine because they had traveled abroad in recent weeks.

Helgeland had been planning the birthdays of her children: Kristine, who will turn 17 on March 26, and Vetle, who will be 14 on April 6. Instead, the three of them are isolated at home.

“They’re so scared,” she said about how news of the virus has affected them. “I wanted to do something to cheer them up.”

Over the weekend, she wrote notes and posted them on Facebook groups, including “Little love notes from around the world!” and one called “ Random Acts of Kindness.” She told people about the chronic illness that she has had for 10 years, the isolation during the virus outbreak and about her family: how her daughter loves cows and dogs and the “Outlander” TV show; how “My Hero Academia” is her son’s favorite cartoon.

“Hi everyone! Hope you all are safe and well with everything happening around the world. I want to ask you a favour,” she said in her note where she asked for a card (“it doesn’t have to be anything fancy”) for her kids. “I want to make their birthdays something to remember with joy,” she said. “And hope to make them both a “love/happy birthday from around the world-note.”

The photos of the cards started coming in, one after the other from all corners of the world. Her favorite? “Oh my God, I love them all,” she said. “They’re all special.”

There’s one with the photo of a tiny, florescent green iguana from Jacksonville, North Carolina and another with the giant brown moose from Sterling, Alaska. And one is a cartoon of a man in a kilt next to his dog from Scotland. Several include landmarks and landscapes, a sunset from Idaho, the “Plaza de Armas” square of Veracruz, Mexico and a dog on a beach in Melbourne, Australia. One with a cartoon cow that reads: “Dear Kristine, your mother’s love is so big that this ‘moooooosage’ came from Alberta, Canada.”

Savanah Foster, 33, from Collinsville, Illinois sent Kristine a hand-drawn card with a birthday cake and for Vetle, some stars. She first read Helgeland’s message in the Facebook group “Little love notes around the world,” and the women have kept in touch and said they have become friends.

“Just knowing how far a mother would go for her kids. It’s just the small things, but there’s love. That moved me,” said Foster, who recently put a message on Facebook offering toilet paper rolls for the elders in her town. “It says that no matter where you are, we are people and as long as we stick together, the world can be ok,” she said. “It is hope. There’s definitely hope.”

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While nonstop global news about the effects of the coronavirus have become commonplace, so, too, are the stories about the kindness of strangers and individuals who have sacrificed for others. “One Good Thing” is an AP continuing series reflecting these acts of kindness.

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Henao reported from New York. Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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