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Collingwood neighbours surprised this police veteran with a show of heart

After the hardest week of her 30-year career in policing, a Collingwood resident came home to find the heart of her community on her front lawn

Behaviours have changed, but vital signs remain in a Collingwood neighbourhood where essential workers are getting lots of love.

On Friday, Cathy Bawden finished what she considers the most difficult week in her 30-year career with the Durham Regional Police Service.

With her remaining strength, she drove home to Collingwood. Waiting for her was a large heart cut out of plywood, painted glossy red, and covered in messages of encouragement from her neighbours.

“I pretty much collapsed,” she said. “I just was done.”

Bawden oversees a division of 80 frontline staff.

“The days have been long, and I’ve been trying to keep the staff positive, and focused, and to reassure them,” she said. “There’s so much ambiguity in COVID-19. As a leader, it’s hard to have the strength to navigate the changes so quickly and still make sure the frontline is focused and equipped.”

She stayed in her car for a few moments after pulling into her driveway. When she got out, her neighbours were standing by to cheer.

The display was the handiwork of Dianne Steele and her husband, Jim, who took to heart a message sent by Bawden earlier in the week.

On Monday, Bawden posted a video in the neighbourhood Facebook group encouraging people to practice physical distancing, stay at home, and also requesting people put a red heart on their house somewhere in support of all frontline workers, from health care to law enforcement and cashiers and truck drivers.

“Cathy’s video made a big impact,” said Steele, adding the call to action was easy, just posting a heart on their homes.

Since Bawden stayed close to work during the week, she didn’t know about the response her video was generating.

Jim and Dianne set to work creating the heart display for Bawden’s lawn, and sent a letter to the neighbourhood.

“We created this community tribute as a surprise gift to thank Cathy for her almost 30 years of public service in addition to her pandemic service,” stated the letter, which also asked people to bring their own sharpies and sign the heart.

About 60 per cent of the neighbourhood of 185 units have posted hearts on their windows or doors. Dozens signed the red heart on her lawn.

“This is replacing what we would do normally, we would hug, we would share a drink or a meal … when you can’t do that, you think, ‘how can you still reach out?’” said Steele.

She said many people in the community are related to individuals on the front lines of this pandemic.

Bawden has five children, and will remain separated from most of them for their protection during the pandemic.

“I’ve known Cathy for four years, and I know words and shows of support are really important … Our community is so strong, I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to participate,” said Steele. “By putting the attention on Cathy, it’s also about putting the attention on everybody.”

Bawden walked the neighbourhood this morning, counting each of the hearts she spotted. She gets emotional thinking about the support, and the giant display of encouragement still standing on her front lawn.

“It reinforces how important it is as a community to come together and support each other,” she said.

If you’d like to join in and show your support for all those working during the pandemic to provide essential services, you can post a red heart in your window or on your front door.