Opinion: Pulling together to offer our thanks

Each night, the rounds of applause echo throughout Midtown Atlanta.

The cheers bounce from balcony to balcony amid the neighborhood's high-rises, floating across the evening sky.

Neighbors hope the bravos reach the heroes at nearby hospitals — the doctors, nurses and others battling the global pandemic.

In Forsyth County, living rooms and kitchen tables have been transformed into mini-factories; residents are sewing hundreds of masks to distribute to pharmacists and caregivers.

And on a recent night in Dunwoody, neighbors threw a surprise thank you party (all while social distancing, of course) to welcome home a nurse practitioner who had just finished her evening shift. When a UPS driver made a pass through the neighborhood, they gave him a big cheer, too.

Indeed, a wave of gratitude is sweeping across metro Atlanta.

We've tried to capture that sentiment on the pages of our newspaper, and Sunday, May 10, we're taking it a step further by unveiling a fun idea called "Art from the Heart."

Working with our corporate parent, Cox Enterprises, we’re inviting children ages 13 and under to share drawings that salute and celebrate metro Atlanta’s front-line workers.

It’s not only an opportunity for children to express their creativity and gratitude, but it could provide parents — many of whom are juggling home schooling, work and all the normal demands of life — with a little relief, as well.

We'll showcase these heartfelt pieces of artwork on AJC.com and publish a special keepsake section in the newspaper later this summer.

This project, like so many others we sponsor throughout the year, are all part of our commitment to celebrate the milestones, moments and people that make metro Atlanta so special.

It’s an important part of our mission — just as important as uncovering the truth, protecting the public’s right to know and holding public officials accountable.

We, too, call metro Atlanta home, and it’s important that our work make Georgia a better place in which to live.

Not only do we publish those words each day on page A2 of our newspaper, but it’s a code that Cox Enterprises lives by.

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Just last month, for instance, the James M. Cox Foundation and Emory Healthcare launched an initiative to provide meals to Atlanta's front-line workers. The program — Feed the Frontline — is now on pace to serve almost 10,000 meals a week.

So far, more than 1,400 donors, including individuals, foundations and corporate contributors, have stepped forward to help, raising more than $1 million. Originally set to end on May 1, the program will now run through the end of the month.

A similar scene, albeit on a smaller scale, is unfolding in neighborhoods across the region.

These days, each of us is looking for a way to help our neighbors and express our gratitude to doctors and nurses, delivery people, grocery store clerks, truck drivers and so many others who have kept us going throughout these difficult times.

In Dunwoody, for example, the same neighbors who showered the nurse practitioner with rounds of applause, flowers and treats also turned out to honor a second-grade teacher.

“It was so nice to spread some positivity,” said Wendy Foote, one of 40 or so neighbors who turned out for the celebrations. “Our health care workers are putting their lives on the line for us, but there are also a ton of other unsung heroes who are essential in this process.

“While it’s been excruciating to lead our kids with schoolwork while we both work from home, my kids’ teachers have made the heavy lift so much more bearable and have risen to serve several roles besides educator.”

At the Lenbrook retirement community in Brookhaven, a group of residents came up with the idea of starting a special “thank you” fund to honor employees and healthcare workers.

“They come and go every day to help us,” said one resident, Linden Longino, “often at risks to themselves and to their families, and often making personal sacrifices.”

And in the Creekstone Estates subdivision in Cumming, the mask-making operation has now blossomed into an effort to provide meals to healthcare workers and firefighters. Neighbors also began donating non-perishable goods to a Forsyth County food pantry and starting taping “thank you” notes on their trash cans and recycle bins.

“It really doesn’t take a lot of effort to say thank you,” one resident, Kendra Reid-Allarding, told me.

“We can be a show of force at this time of uncertainty. We all have something to offer if we look hard enough. We can all do our part.”

Yes, we can.

These are difficult times, but they seem to be bringing out the best in so many of us.

That’s why it’s so important to us to share these stories; to reflect on some of the silver linings that have emerged from the pandemic; to capture this region’s heart and soul and its generosity.

It’s also why we’re so excited about the Art from the Heart project.

To provide some inspiration, you’ll see in the video at the top of this story that we’ve included a sampling of some of the drawings that already have been submitted. I’ve also shared my own piece of, um, “artwork.” (Consider it a self-portrait and a thank you to my colleagues.)

Mine should be easy to spot in the video — particularly when compared to the drawings from these talented young artists.

We can't wait to see more of their artwork, and submitting a drawing is easy. Just visit https://www.ajc.com/artfromtheheart/.

We’re certain that readers and those on the front lines will find the artwork to be a touching and an everlasting tribute to their heroics.

After all, we couldn’t think of a more fitting way to say thank you.

Mark A. Waligore is Managing Editor and Senior Director at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.