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One Good Thing: The 'Buy Nothing' balloons

Special occasions haven't been the same since the pandemic began. But a batch of birthday balloons are bringing together a group of women in an unexpected way.

Of the many things the pandemic has robbed from us, our own companionship may be the most difficult with which to deal. 

So, many activities we used do together, now need to be done either alone or at distance. But, a group of women using the most common of social media outlets found a way to celebrate the most common of events in a very uncommon way. And without even realizing it, they did it together.

Before the pandemic, kids' birthday parties were a shared experience. Cake. Presents. Maybe a few tantrums. But now with COVID, Blythe Gritter had to go a little smaller for her daughter's 13th birthday.

"I still wanted obnoxious decorations," said Blythe Gritter. "My sister came over, and I said let's make this as big and tacky as possible. And that's what we did.

A $15 set of balloons did the trick. Afterwards, she shared them on a Buy Nothing Facebook page.

Blythe said, "I think I said 'does anyone want this ridiculous balloon arch? It's not going to fit where you think it's going to fit."

Amy Gardine responded, "Well, there we go."

A few blocks away, Amy decided she would spice up the pandemic birthday party for her 12 year old.

"He actually does love pink and black," Amy said of her son.

Back to the page.

"When Amy posted it was available, I thought — oh that sounds like fun!"

That was Kristie, who got them for her 10 year old son Oakland's birthday. After that, it was an easy pick up for Megan, whose youngest was turning 7.

Megan said, "And I'm a frequent flyer at Kristi's house. I'm picking up stuff all the time!" 

By now, this stuff's reputation was - well... "It was ballooning," said Ann, one of the page administrators.

Amanda is the other admin. She says, "The idea is to give freely from your abundance. Everyone has something to give."

It was now being given to Alaina. But there was a problem.

"My daughter's birthday is the same as Megan's son's birthday," she said.

Quick solution:

"Maybe we can have the balloons for Saturday," said Alaina, "since someone has them on her birthday."

That worked. But, transportation was sometimes a concern. Like to the next house.

"I was nervous if it was going to fit in my Traverse," said Meggan Shepard.

But, she got it there.

"It was this little girl's fifth birthday," Meggan said of her daughter, Cadence.

By this point, the balloons had been to six houses.

"I was hoping it would make it till her birthday," said Kelli Keifer.

Still plenty of air left for Kelli to get them for Layla's tenth, who said, "They were big and pretty."

And they were now ready for Joanna.

"I don't know where these balloons came from or what she put in them," she wondered.

"Amazon," said Blythe.

After Joanna's middle daughter enjoyed them, they moved on again. Continuing to create something we've been lacking during our paired down pandemic parties: a shared experience.

Amanda said, "We get to see everyone's pictures and their celebrations and what a joy during a time where we can't connect in other ways."

Amy added, "I got to hang outside and talk to Blythe when she gave it to me. And I got to hang outside and talk to Kristi after she came. The coolest part of this."

Ann also said, "Without this group... I wouldn't be able to build community."

For nearly a full year, we've been celebrating birthdays over zooms and at the end of driveways. But this Buy Nothing page paired with a collection of rubber and hot air gave these women a little normalcy during this cold winter. 

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