BISMARCK — On the Gill family’s fourth night of social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic, Mandy Gill came up with an idea after seeing a post online.
All she and her children needed was paper, scissors, markers and a window facing a street, and a popular online effort to share love during a pandemic was born right here in North Dakota.
She created a Facebook group now called #aworldofhearts by encouraging others to put a heart in their windows or get outside and look for hearts in windows. Less than 48 hours later, more than 100,000 were following along.
She started the group locally, then as people from across the state began posting pictures, Gill changed the name to represent North Dakota. When more people started joining, she changed the name to represent the U.S., but even that wasn't big enough when people from Italy and Germany began sharing the idea.
“Sharing love through hearts posted in your windows.” Simple. And in the midst of a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the idea is also catchy. “By filing your windows with hearts your neighbors and those passing by will know we are in this together,” her Facebook page said.
“I thought that it would be really fun for a group like that in Bismarck and Mandan,” Gill said. “I didn’t think so many people would get behind it. I asked if anybody would be interested, and people said it would be a good idea.”
There are few rules behind the design of #aworldofhearts.
“People are supposed to be cutting out any material from your house — tinfoil, construction paper, markers, paint — and the goal is to hang them in a window that faces your door so people can see them when they’re walking or driving around. Some people are saying they don’t have a window, so they put them on their front door,” Gill said.
“And you can put up as many as you want. Some are doing collages, some are doing one or two. It just depends on what you have the space for.”
The first night she made the group, Gill added eight people and then went to bed. The next morning, her husband, who is still working at his office in relative isolation, told her, “You've got to see this. There’s 1,800 people following,” Gill said.
By 5 p.m. Monday, March 23, Gill's group had 158,000 members. A Canadian group created on Thursday, March 19, named #aworldofhearts2020 had about 35,000 members.
Now in their seventh day of not going to school while social distancing, her children, ages 11, 4, and 1, are getting bored, and “they’re pretty sad about not being able to be with their friends,” she said. But decorating hearts with colored paper, or markers or paint, or any other creative outlet, is a way to keep them occupied, at least some of the time.
They’ve also made hearts for elderly neighbors, and left them on front doorsteps along with an instructional note, Gill said.
Followers from around the world are now posting pictures on Gill's Facebook page. There’s no politics there, no finger-pointing — just hearts on windows, and happy, smiling faces struggling through the pandemic that has nearly shut the world down.