Painted rocks unite community during COVID-19 pandemic
By Joanne McDonald
The first rocks appeared the day that police and firefighters surrounded West Lincoln Memorial Hospital in a massive show of flashing lights support for the health care workers on the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It wasn’t long before they were everywhere – little asteroids of hope appearing, it seemed, out of nowhere on street corners and sidewalks, lifting community spirits through long months of lockdowns in a world turned upside down.
But who, asked many, was this benevolent crusader, Grimsby’s very own Banksy.
By day, Kim Sharpe works in a Grimsby dental office. By night, she’s been planting the painted rocks all over town.
The idea came from her own need to feel useful when her workplace had to close the doors earlier this year due to Covid protocols.
It started with a ‘nurse rock’ painted for a friend who works at a hospital Covid site. “I just wanted her to know that everyone cares about the frontline workers.” Sharpe worried about her friend’s well-being coming home after a shift and wanted her “to be able to walk by her garden and see the rock and know we all think she is a hero and we appreciate that.”
Sharpe has since painted 20 rocks for nurses depicting a silhouette of a nurse with the message “A hero lives here.”
Starting with help from her daughters Emily and Ella, the crew of accomplices soon grew to include her friend Joanne Kemp and daughter Karly. They painted by day and delivered the rocks under cover of darkness.
The adventure grew to more than 100 rocks with messages of gratitude for the community and to the delight of local shop owners, signature rocks with replicas of their names and logos, found waiting on their doorsteps.
“It broke my heart to see how hard this must be for the businesses in Town to stay afloat.”
“We wanted to let the businesses know as a community we were thinking about them, cared about them and wanted them to make it through this.”
Some wanted her to come forward to give her a big hug – but the hugs will have to wait.
Sandy Jaskula, co-owner of Teddy’s Food, Fun & Spirits may have said it best in the YouTube video ‘Grimsby. Small Town. Big Heart’ which documented the delivery of face shields to downtown businesses.
“There is someone who is going around and dropping these (rocks) off and the day we saw ours, Teddy, my brother called me. He said there’s a stone out front. I couldn’t get up here fast enough to see it. It brightens your day to know that people care. Someone out there cares about everybody in Grimsby because they’re going around and putting these rocks out,” Jaskula said.
Maintaining their anonymity was part of the excitement for the paint crew but they got more than they bargained for one Saturday night carrying a basket of rocks in the downtown core.
It was late, the stores were closed and there wasn’t a soul in sight, that is until a police officer stopped them to ask a few questions.
“The girls were freaked right out. They thought they were in so much trouble.” But course the officer was fine and happily surprised with their antics. Since then, Sharpe has painted a rock with the Niagara Regional Police Services logo and it’s on proud display at the station.
“We did it for the love of Grimsby. We have such a great town and we have such a great community. I wanted to keep us together, to keep us strong and loving and hopeful.”
There is an inspired quartet of ‘author’ rocks that was placed surreptitiously at the Grimsby Public Library. Staff expressing their gratitude in a Facebook message said, “A big thank you to the person who left these beautiful painted stones, for your support of the library during the #covid19 closure and for inspiring a love of the classics to passers-by.”
“My personal message is stay strong,” says Sharpe. “Covid 19 is going to have affected the mental health of so many people who would never have been been triggered. They can’t handle the isolation. It’s terrifying for everybody.”
She wants the community to stay strong. “We’re all here for each other. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
For Sharpe that strength came from finding a way to support others. “Painting these rocks gave me purpose. I would finish a rock and feel happy.”
“Sometimes just looking down at the ground and seeing something colourful puts a smile on your face.”