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Locals hit the streets for scavenger hunts

T-R photo by Thomas Nelson A resident on North Seventh Street showcases a teddy bear sporting a UCLA T-shirt in their window.

Artwork, Easter and bears oh my!

A scavenger hunt trend sweeping the nation has reached Marshalltown and is serving as a way for families to get out of the house while practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants either place items in windows of houses or businesses that can be seen from streets, or drive around neighborhoods and spot as many of the items as possible. It is similar to families driving around neighborhoods during the holidays and looking at Christmas lights.

The Family Drive Scavenger Hunt began March 24 by Ashley Keefer, 34, of Liscomb, and her mother Lori McLain.

“I saw in a homeschool group from another state that they were doing a scavenger hunt,” Keefer said. “I know kids get bored easily. They need to get out and my kids love scavenger hunts.”

T-R photo by Thomas Nelson If others want to participate, they can put a teddy bear in their window, a paper heart or something ‘fun.’

McLain said it is important to provide children some kind of normal.

“I thought it was a great idea when my daughter told me about it,” McLain said.

If there is one thing Keefer said Marshalltown residents learned after the 2018 tornado is that the community sticks together during hard times. She said it can be done again, even from the safety of homes or vehicles.

‘So many smiles’

Keefer enlisted the help of McLain and created a private Facebook group with 11 participants. When she made a public group, the number of people wanting to join in on the fun increased significantly. Keefer received the addresses of 54 people in Marshalltown who placed something in their window.

“Between my two groups alone, I have about 70 people who commented on going,” she said. “I know many are going and not posting, though. I have seen so many smiles of kids on Facebook and making kids feel at ease during this time was my main goal.”

McLain said people have responded positively to the hunt.

“They have been very receptive to the idea and love the chance to do something fun with the kids,” McLain said.

Before the pandemic struck, Keefer was a homeschool mom for her son, Landon while her daughter, Cash, attended SonShine Preschool in Marshalltown.

“I started out trying to include local day cares and families,” she said.

When she started the event, Keefer created suggestions for participation, rather than rules. She said she did not want anyone to feel forced or obligated to participate. Keefer also created different themes. Rather than having people hunt for only teddy bears, such as what many of the scavengers are looking for in other towns in America, she established a schedule to switch it up:

• From March 23-25, people looked for stuffed animals, and many of those animals were teddy bears.

• During March 28-28, scavengers searched for kids’ artwork in windows.

• March 29-31 is when people need to find positive words.

• From April 1-3, people will search for family friendly April Fool’s Day items.

• Easter items will be sought after April 4-6.

“With all the events going on, it’s great to see all the different ways people are now participating, even if it’s not the same as my schedule,” Keefer said.

‘Worth every smile’

McLain, 57, operates an in-home day care and has worked with children for 28 years.

“My day care kids have been having a riot with this,” McLain said. “The tree on my front door was painted by them with their hand prints as the leaves. They look forward to each new topic.”

Seeing the excitement in the faces of the children has been the best part for McLain.

“So many of them have missed going to school, seeing their friends or just getting out,” McLain said. “This has led them in a positive direction.”

“I feel it’s important to keep some new form of normal for our children,” Keefer said. “They deserve to have fun family time that includes leaving the house. This keeps social distancing in place while allowing others to also get involved and bring a sense of community.”

Whether or not this will be an annual thing is to be decided. Keefer hopes things will return to normal soon and understands people live busy lives.

“It would be great to celebrate this time of year each year and maybe offer different themes,” she said. “I’m sure there are many in the community who would still love to participate and would be willing to continue.”

McLain would hate to see the scavenger hunt end and hopes it will continue every year.

“I hope that those who have not heard of this, ask questions and get involved,” McLain said. “It’s worth every smile I have seen.”

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