April 2020 – While a stay-at-home directive urges most Minnesotans to avoid public settings, everyday heroes are putting themselves at risk by attending to our community’s most essential needs.
“I think of these people as working on the front lines … and against an enemy we can’t see,” explained Morningside Neighborhood resident Heather Lane. She, like so many millions of others across the country, is sheltering at home as much as possible in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Quarantine has afforded Lane opportunities for introspection. “The world felt really heavy. I found myself worrying about jobs, but also worrying about going back to work once the worst is over. When will it seem safe? ... But it dawned on me: Wow, there are people going out there every day, because they have to meet our everyday needs.”
After adopting this gratitude-first approach for herself, Lane brainstormed ways to share the sentiment – no easy thing, in this age of social distancing. On March 22, a strategy finally came to mind.
“We live near the busy intersection of France Avenue and 42nd Street … with a retaining wall in front of our house,” Lane explained. A graphic designer by training, she saw in the nondescript, weathered wood a useful canvas perfectly situated in a high-traffic location. “I went out there and began to sketch a kind of mural in children’s chalk.”
She had help – tasteful art direction, as she puts it – from her 8-year-old son, Alex. “I wanted to write “Thank U” for all those in jobs on the front lines. I originally sketched it out in orange, but Alex convinced me that a rainbow would be better. He’s right; it really pops!”
On the right of this simple message, Lane chalked a white cross against a red background – the universal symbol for the medical field. “Doctors and nurses, and also janitors and everyone else who staffs hospitals during this difficult time – they’re in our thoughts, for sure.”
She supplemented this emblem, which measures just under four feet across, with five circles honoring additional professions. “I truly hope that, as a society, we never forget the time that grocery store clerks and truck drivers stepped up like they’re doing now. Along with doctors and nurses, I think they’re part of a unique team working together to get us all through this.” Police and fire departments each have a symbol as well, and for the same reason.
Lane had no particular expectations for this passion project, and certainly never envisioned the response that her simple message generated in just three short weeks. It began that first Sunday, as Lane applied an old yardstick as a straightedge and makeshift compass to outline the shapes. “Neighbors and [passersby] stopped to look and take pictures even when it was just the letters portion,” she recalled.
Word got out. Several area media outlets, including the Star Tribune, shared photos of Lane’s chalking. For a time, KARE 11 News even adopted Lane’s homage by showcasing the mural as the station’s official Facebook cover photo – a move that garnered 3,000 likes.
Attention only ballooned from there. Among other visitors who have dropped by to admire Lane’s work in person (from a socially distant vantage point, of course), several stick out.
“We had a minister come by who was scouting for positive messages to work into his upcoming Easter Sunday sermon” – which he was preparing to deliver in a virtual environment for the first time. She also had promising contact with a Minnesota member of an international photographer and videographer coalition actively capturing and preserving memories of the coronavirus pandemic for posterity.
Lane is most touched when she hears from her target audience, who drive down France Avenue on their way to work or make time for a short side trip on a rare day off.
“We’d thought about covering the art with a tarp to protect it from rain, but decided against that,” Lane explained. “A while back, a doctor got in touch asking if the chalk would be on display that day. … It occurred to me that if our first responders can do what they’re doing, I can definitely go back out there and touch up the mural after it rains.”
Heartened by this outpouring of support, Lane decided to expand her efforts into a bona fide campaign.
“After floating ideas in an Edina moms group that I’m a part of, I ordered 200 yard signs with the ‘Thank U’ messaging.” Proceeds, should there be any, would be earmarked for the Edina Public Schools Meal Fund.
Once again, Lane was surprised and humbled by a groundswell of interest. Stock sold out almost immediately, before Lane even got her order back from the printer. Her intrepid family spent the better part of a weekend crisscrossing Edina, hand delivering that first batch of yard signs.
With each drop off, she included a long note encouraging neighbors to look past the present crisis.
Lane has spent the majority of her career in nonprofit environments, including a decade for a Milwaukee-based children’s theater company and, most recently, as manager of guest relations for Erik’s Ranch & Retreat. Located in the Southdale Neighborhood of Edina, Erik’s is a not-for-profit hotel operated by young people with autism. It affords an invaluable opportunity for them to hone social and workplace skills. Life-changing enterprises like these are another thing Lane is grateful for.
In her note, Lane wrote: “I would also like to ask you to please consider making a pledge to support your favorite nonprofits, small businesses and arts organizations,” because these causes will by and large be struggling even once the immediate threat of coronavirus recedes.
After all, “we’re all in this together … and that’s something we hopefully won’t soon forget.”
Heather Lane’s THANK U yard sign campaign is scaling quickly, and now includes a website where you can purchase your own. She ships across the country.