Upper Arlington resident Paula Gilmour knew two caravans of vehicles would drive by her home in celebration of her daughter Ashley's 17th birthday April 8.

One was a group of her daughter's friends, and another included members of her youth group at Trinity United Methodist Church.

But she still couldn't help feeling overcome with emotion when she saw the vehicles make their way down the street, Gilmour said.

"I knew about it ahead of time, but even when they drove by, I just started crying," she said. "I was like 'Oh, my God, this is so amazing that with everything going on in the world, people left their homes, and they're spending their time to celebrate her.' "

That's when Gilmour, a real-estate agent, got the idea of organizing birthday caravans so people throughout the community could experience what her daughter did during a time when traditional birthday celebrations aren't feasible because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"So that night, I was thinking how cool would it be to set something up for the community where every kid who has a birthday now can experience the same thing," she said.

Gilmour started the UA Caravan Club Facebook group the next day to mobilize the community. The group has ballooned in popularity, with Gilmour receiving multitudes of caravan requests and organizing several birthday caravans per day.

The caravans themselves often include 20 to 30 vehicles. They are made up of friends, relatives and volunteers who meet in such designated gathering places as parking lots before heading out to their destinations, and they adhere to social-distancing guidelines.

Some caravans even are escorted by the Upper Arlington Police Division.

As of April 27, Gilmour's Facebook group had 643 members and had completed 41 birthday caravans for people of all ages.

"We've celebrated everybody from a 3-year-old to an 85-year-old," Gilmour said. "We're all in our cars and stay in our own cars. We just have the windows down, and people are holding posters out of sunroofs and out the window.

"And people are yelling, 'Happy birthday,' and sometimes we have someone that comes with a big speaker and plays birthday music."

The caravans have brightened the spirits of residents throughout the community, including 4-year-old Landon McChesney, who has special needs because of a rare genetic disorder.

Landon's birthday was April 25, and the Upper Arlington community rallied to drive by his home and celebrate.

"The cars just kept coming," his mother, Jaren McChesney, said. "Even strangers we don't even know had signs with 'Landon' on it. There were balloons out their windows. A UA policeman was a part of it, and he even said, 'Happy birthday, Landon,' over his radio. It was awesome. It was so uplifting."

Landon was blown away by the caravan, she said.

"He was in complete shock," McChesney said. "He was clapping. He couldn't believe it was all for him."

Mary Ramsey recalled signing up April 25 for a caravan for her 8-year-old daughter's April 26 birthday. Like clockwork, Gilmour and a parade of cars showed up on her street that day, despite pouring rain, to celebrate Savannah's birthday.

"(Savannah) ended the day by saying it was her best day ever, and she wished the day would never end," Ramsey said. "And the fact is, it wouldn't end -- it just kept going.

"Every time there was another car, she said, 'There's somebody else? They're all here for me?' It was very sweet and shocking for a little 8-year-old that so many people she knew and didn't know would drive by her house in the middle of a Sunday."

"I felt loved," Savannah said.

Adults, including Upper Arlington resident Mary Cloern, also have enjoyed the caravans.

Cloern was visited by one to celebrate her 60th birthday April 18.

"I thought it was fantastic," she said. "They started beeping way down the street, so we could hear them. When they drove by real slow, they had some signs; there were a lot of kids hanging out the sunroof waving and people waving out of their windows. It was just fun.

"I had a blast watching. I was hoping it would have been longer."

Gilmour said she plans to keep the caravans going as long as the coronavirus lockdown is in place.

She said she has been taken aback by the amount of support the caravans have received from the Upper Arlington community.

"It's amazing," she said. "I grew up here, but I've never really seen a group like this come together so quickly."

To request a caravan, Gilmour said, residents must ask to join the UA Caravan Club on Facebook and then send her a private message if they are approved.

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve