Melissa Marquis of Bath uses chalk to draw a heart along with her 9-year-old daughter Gracie and 20-month-old daughter Eden. Courtesy Melissa Marquis

BATH — As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, sometimes seemingly with no end in sight, signs of hope are that much more precious these days.

They come in various forms: a sprouting flower, the chirping of a bird newly returned from the south. There, too, are the inspirational messages that began appearing on sidewalks around downtown Bath in mid-March, after COVID-19 caused a statewide lockdown that forced schools and most businesses to close and called for social distancing to avoid the virus’ spread.

With her two children – 9-year-old Gracie and 20-month-old Eden – home with her full time, Melissa Marquis has made a point on fair-weather days to lead them on a walk from their home in the north end of Bath down to the heart of the city. Gracie suggested they bring along sidewalk chalk, so they could stop periodically along the way to scrawl out hearts.

Gracie Marquis of Bath had the idea of using chalk drawings to inspire others amid the tough times of the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy Melissa Marquis

“And then my daughter was like, ‘we should leave little messages for people,'” Marquis said. “So we just started writing uplifting things that we would like to come across while we were going on our walks.”

“Smile,” “You Matter,” “Bath Proud,” “Be Kind” and “Stay Strong” are examples of the cheery notes written with chalk.

“I just thought that it would be a nice thing to do,” Gracie said. “It’s such a hard time for a lot of people right now. We have to stay home and we can’t see anybody.”

“She definitely, even as a 9-year-old, sees the effects of not being able to see family,” said Marquis, who each day encourages her daughter to write an uplifting letter to a friend or relative.

Fellow community members like Jamie Dorr, who heads the Midcoast Community Alliance, have been touched by the simple but powerful messages.

“We’ve all been experiencing a wide range of emotions and feelings of helplessness,” she said. “Seeing a stuffed bear peeking out of a window or a simple message of hope written on the sidewalk, can have such a positive impact because it reminds us that we are not alone and each of us is still here to support one another, even if we can’t be together physically.”

“You’re so limited in what you can do for people right now, so it’s nice any time you can find a way to lift spirits,” Marquis said. She and Gracie are working on a new project: collecting and cleaning rocks they’ve found along their walks, then painting images and messages on those as well before placing them in the downtown area.

Marquis was pleased to see photos of the messages posted on social media that passersby had taken, often showing their children posed beside the note.

“It’s interesting to see how many people come across it, that we don’t even know, that are in the community,” Marquis said. She showed the pictures to Gracie, “who was like ‘oh my goodness, that’s so cool. So now, every time we go for a walk, she (says), ‘we’ve got to bring the chalk; throw it in the stroller.’ It motivated her to want to spread the message more.”

Indeed, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

“It made me feel really great that I could do something to make people so happy,” Gracie said.

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