BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - A bright green lawn decorated with signs that read "Happy Birthday Sophie," an elaborate balloon display and borrowed inflatable birthday cake from her softball coach, made it quite obvious where the birthday girl, Sophie Chhowalla lived. Bundled in a giant pink hoodie and her positivity blanket, Sophie, a third grader at Woodruff Elementary school diagnosed in late 2019 with stage IV metastatic cancer, and her family anxiously waited for the arrival of her very own birthday parade to celebrate her 9th year.
On April 8th Komal Naik posted on the “Sophie’s Soldiers’’ Facebook page asking how members felt about coordinating a birthday parade. The post generated 74 enthusiastic comments all to the effect of, “we’re in!” The group planned to gather at Woodruff School at 5:15 p.m.
At 5:30pm, piercing sirens began to blare as the Berkeley Heights Police Department, Volunteer Fire Department and Volunteer Rescue Squad led the parade of decked out cars past the Chhowalla house. Mayor Angie Devanney, Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley, Former Councilwoman Michelle Greco, Woody the Woodruff School mascot, a ton of friends, family and neighbors traveled south down Briarwood Drive West, west down Ferndale Drive past the Chhowalla home, made a loop down Greenbriar Drive and Hastings Road and came back down to Ferndale Drive. The air was filled with car horns, bubbles, silly string, the voices of children and adults screaming from their windows and sunroofs, “Happy Birthday Sofie! We love you!”
The Chhowalla family looked on, stunned at the outpouring of love for their young daughter and sister. Sophie waved with a giant grin on her face, only stopping once to run out to the street to retrieve a gift thrown from a passing car.
As the parade ended, Sophie’s aunt, Kristen Huetz, parked her car and approached the driveway, “I’m not crying, you are!” she joked, wiping away tears. “That was amazing!” exclaimed Sophie’s mom, Jill.