Justin Corrente of Oxford waves to one of the fire trucks at his 40th birthday parade. Courtesy of Brewster Burns

OXFORD — The pressures of social distancing restrictions caused by COVID-19 have affected everyone differently. For those whose well being relies on social interactions it has been especially trying.

Justin Corrente of Oxford is one of those people. He is well known around the area, mostly for attending every possible sporting event and practice, but also for memorizing license plate numbers and waving to every person on the road whose plate he knows.

“Justin walks every day,” said Joni Gordon, supervisor at the Pink Feather Foundation and his friend. “And he walks with purpose.”

Pre-COVID-19 that purpose was to watch Viking and municipal/recreation team sports. But since March and the forced cancellation of spring season competitions he counts on being a part of, he has been uprooted from his daily support system.

Corrente is autistic and volunteers at the Pink Feather Foundation in Oxford, sorting donated clothing and managing inventory. He, along with the other organization’s other volunteers, has been sidelined from his duties since March 21, causing him further isolation. As social distancing extended through April, Corrente’s friends on Facebook noticed that his posts were becoming increasingly sad, especially leading up to his April 25 birthday.

“Justin lives for sports, he attends every school concert and performance he can,” said Gordon. “He goes to 4-H meetings, spends time at Pismo Beach. Everyone knows him. He is well-loved and protected by all. Social distancing has had a huge impact on him.”

Vehicles gather for a Sunday parade to celebrate Oxford resident Justin Corrente’s 40th birthday. Courtesy of Brewster Burns

Another friend, Megan Smith, told Gordon that she was concerned about the disruptions to his routine from self-quarantining. The two decided to put a call out for people who know Corrente to send greetings to brighten his 40th birthday.

Cards and gifts poured in in answer to Gordon’s and Smith’s request, filling the largest size shipping box they could buy. Among the gifts were requests to be able to see Corrente again, so the two women decided to muster his many friends to a birthday parade for him to see how much everyone missed him. The response made it clear to Gordon that a parade past his rural home would be no easy feat, so she moved it Route 26.

Close to 100 vehicles gathered at the Oxford Hills Plaza on Sunday for the parade, decked with banners, streamers and balloons to celebrate Corrente’s birthday. The procession went southward along Route 26, passing him as he stood at the entrance of the Pink Feather Foundation, waving to each person. Gordon said she counted at least 78 personal vehicles, 10 fire trucks and five local and state police cruisers.

As all the parade vehicles pulled in across the road at Oxford Hills Speedway, Corrente’s friends broke out in a group rendition of Happy Birthday.

Gordon showed the procession as a live stream on the Pink Feather Foundation’s Facebook page. To date it has been viewed 5,700 times. She loaded a separate video of the parade to YouTube and in less than two days it has logged more than 6,400 views, with 250 shares from its Facebook page alone.

Gordon said that after the parade another friend who helped plan the celebration, Michelle Campbell, asked Corrente what he thought about it.

“I think everyone in Oxford Hills misses me,” was his answer.

Justin Corrente (bottom left) to well wishers during a parade in his honor. Nearly 100 vehicles, including 10 fire trucks and five police cars, and hundreds of friends participated in the parade that started at Oxford Hills Plaza and ended at Oxford Plains Speedway. Courtesy of Brewster Burns

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