LAKE COMO/BELMAR, NJ — In these times of social distancing, Stefanie O’Donnell decided it was time to “think outside the box” to draw her family — and neighbors — closer together.

So the O’Donnells broke out the markers and an old tablecloth, creating a banner that they hung from the front porch of their 19th Avenue home in Lake Como. Each letter brightly colored, the word “Hope” pops from the white background, framed by flowers, the sun and a peace sign.

After sending a photo of the banner to their neighbors, it wasn’t long before they joined in, brightening the corner of 19th Avenue and B Street, where their collective show of optimism is now on full display.

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“The banner idea came to me as a way to show my neighbors and those who drive by our home, that we are all one in this fight against COVID-19,” said O’Donnell. “We have a great group of neighbors. We’re like a family.”

The Sea Girt Elementary School teacher said her experience as adviser to its Patriots Helping Hands Club spurred the banner idea. “We as a club are constantly looking for ways to support our community and the communities surrounding ours,” she said.

Now with the help of social media, there is a push to get people throughout Belmar and Lake Como — and even beyond — on the banner bandwagon.

For example, the initiative is being championed by the PTO at Belmar Elementary School, where O’Donnell’s husband, Kevin, heads up the technology department. The group has launched the BES Banner Challenge, seeking people to send along photos of their uplifting creations to post on its Facebook page — “to brighten up these days ahead.”

Stefanie O’Donnell is appreciative of the attention the effort has received. “It warms my heart to know that in a time of confusion and darkness, we can help send a sense of calm and light,” she said.

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