Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other touchstone events continue to happen, regardless of current pandemic circumstances. With proper health guidelines in mind, Katie McMurray and Melissa Oiland were inspired to celebrate their friend’s 40th birthday. The date was early in the sheltering-at-home time when hardly anyone was going anywhere. Rather than let the day quietly slip by, the energetic pair donned face masks and gloves and then decorated their friend’s doorway with colorful balloons and birthday greetings. Not only was their friend delighted, but Katie and Melissa had a blast planning and executing the surprise event. It could have stopped there, but it didn’t. The seeds of Masked Birthday Bandits were sown.

Katie and Melissa have been friends for years with their children growing up and going to school together. They are also in the same book club. When Daisye Orr, another member of the book club, had a birthday coming up, Katie and Melissa went into action. Balloons were blown up, signs made, and a load of streamers were packed in the car. Under the cover of early morning hours, Katie and Melissa completed an enthusiastic decorating job. Daisye recalled there were lots of streamers. Katie assured her the extra was because she was a friend. The unexpected experience lifted Daisye’s day and she told them that she would be happy to contribute her artistic talents by making festive signs. Daisy also contributed painted rocks that became keepsakes. “She was a fantastic addition,” noted Katie. At the time, Daisye had no idea what she was volunteering to do.

Like spies, they had late night, secret mission dead drops for materials. Blank yard signs were delivered to Daisye’s porch. All supplies were left with appropriate social distancing. Decorating antics usually took place very early in the mornings. Katie, who has three children, is a vocational counselor with Grant and Associates. Melissa has a large family including five boys. Daisye works full time for the State Department of Health. The Masked Birthday Bandits was in addition to all this, plus pets, spouses, volunteer work and everything else to manage life. But it was fun. It was a creative outlet in uncertain times. Katie walked her property to gather sticks to attach to the balloons and also found stress relief. Daisye liked to do art when she was away from work. All their families were supportive of the Masked Birthday Bandits, and word spread among their friends.

The Masked Birthday Bandits spread joy throughout Thurston County because they wanted to encourage hope and connections. Photo courtesy: Masked Birthday Bandits

The positive reception from the lucky recipients spurred the Masked Bandits to offer their services to the community on social media. Maybe others would benefit from a visit. Within 5 minutes, the messages started coming in. They didn’t stop. Before long the Masked Bandits were doing 2-3 collaborations a day. They never said, “No.” They also did not charge for their deliveries.

“Sometimes we got caught. Sometimes we didn’t,” remembered Katie. Generally, it involved a lot of laughing and smiling. They didn’t even know most of the people, but many sent delightful videos of the reveals. Their net of goodwill expanded. They recalled the story of a young boy who was unable to leave his home. They planted a sign that encouraged passers-by to honk. All day long he lit up as he counted all the honks. The Masked Birthday Bandits treated a homebound, terminally ill spouse, which was touching for all involved. Another visit came at the request from an adult child who lived away from Olympia. The Masked Bandits made a trip to Panorama City to surprise the mother. Upon arrival, they discovered the yard had already been decorated by Sign Gypsies JBLM, an actual business. They were impressed with their professional materials – and added their decorations to the party. The hand-written thank you note from the mom expressed her deep appreciation and joy.

The Masked Birthday Bandits spread joy throughout Thurston County because they wanted to encourage hope and connections. Photo courtesy: Masked Birthday Bandits
The antics of the Masked Birthday Bandits are now sweet memories. It was never meant to be a full-time business (or even part time) for Katie, Melissa and Daisye. The need was born from the turbulent, isolating times we are facing, which we hope are now easing up. Their kindness and generosity are testaments to the importance of staying connected. “It is the responsibility as a community to take care of each other,” affirmed Katie. Thank you, Katie, Melissa and Daisye.

I hope the Masked Birthday Bandits serves as an inspiration to you to reach out in simple yet heartfelt ways to someone in your sphere of influence. The world needs this. The community benefits and it does your heart enormous good.