Balloon hunt engages community

Courtney Blankenship
Pratt balloon hunt participants (from left) Pam Hensley, Barrett Thomas and Brenna Thomas, share some smiles after Barrett gets a coloring page for his finds.

In this new age of social distancing and self-quarantining to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus, Pratt resident, Stacie Strong, sought to engage the community while still respecting social distancing by organizing a local balloon hunt on Thursday, March 26.

The idea for the balloon hunt came to Strong after seeing the way other communities were putting teddy bears in their windows for kids to find on walks as a way to get out of the house.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of stress and anxiety for people, but as most hardships do, it has also brought communities together and given families some much needed rest and time together,” Strong said. “I’m glad the balloon hunt allowed them another activity to get out of the house and focus on something positive during such an uncertain time.”

Knowing that the impact on the local economy and small businesses was a big concern, Strong said the event was coordinated in partnership with Balloons and More as a way for people to have fun and also support a local business that has been heavily impacted by the spread of the virus.

“I reached out to Tonja Harrison on Tuesday with the idea,” Strong said. “She offered to discount the balloons to $2 for people to come purchase and place in their yards on Thursday, March 26, and said that she would give a free coloring page for anyone who brought a list of at least 10 addresses where they had found balloons as an incentive.”

The event was advertised on Facebook with the initial goal of getting at least 20 participants, however, 85 homes and businesses ended up buying balloons and participating in the all-day event.

Tonja Harrison, owner of Balloons and More, said people registered for the event by purchasing balloons from Balloons and More, and though there was not an official start time for the event, people were encouraged to put balloons out by 9 AM.

“We had several people buy more balloons to donate to other families and businesses too,” Harrison said. “We have such an amazing community! It has brought me to tears on how well this went today.”

With the cancellation of this year’s graduation and prom, two of the biggest sources of revenue for Balloons and More, Harrison said the business has taken some major financial hits during the COVID-19 crisis, so she appreciates the community’s support.

Due to the success of this first event, Harrison said she has already been asked by community members if the event will be repeated in the future.

“I really can’t tell you how much this means to me. We have had an overwhelming, positive response to it, so we will do it again next month,” Harrison said. “We won’t pick a date until it’s closer to the time because of weather—-Want to try to find a day that is nice with little wind.”

Parents had all day Thursday and Friday to bring their photos and lists to Balloons and More to earn free coloring sheets and be entered in the drawings for Saturday.

Strong said, in order to be entered in the drawings, people had to be between the ages of 2 and 18, and they needed to bring a list of addresses or pictures to Balloons and More of at least 10 balloons they located throughout town.

The donated prizes included a $20 gift card from Whitson Commercial Cleaning, a $15 gift card from Jodi Drake with Pratt County Extension, and a $10 Sonic card, two balls, two mini frisbees and two pairs of sunglasses from Eric Strobel at Nextech.

Harrison said she would like to thank the community for the support as well as Margo Roberts, the “boss” of Balloons and More, who made a lot of deliveries to homes and businesses.

Samaria Kohman, a Pratt resident and event participant, said she decided to bring her daughter Mayzie-Rai, her sons Ace and Chase, and her sister Sage when she heard about the event as a regular customer of Balloons and More.

“I decided to participate because it sounded like a fun idea for my kids while social distancing,” Kohman said. “It went well, the kids really enjoyed it, and it was fun for Sage and I to try and get them all.”