James White of Portland, a nurse at Maine Medical Center, with one of the lawn signs made by Daniel Barton to express gratitude toward health-care workers. (Courtesy Daniel Barton)
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It was impulsive, according to Daniel Barton. It wasn’t even an original idea.

“This was just an organic thing,” he said. “… It just came together.”

But Barton’s impulsive idea – to make and distribute yard signs expressing thanks to Maine’s health-care workers – has helped spread some joy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Barton said his partner is a nurse at Maine Medical Center, and after reading an article about similar signs, he wanted to make a sign to do something to surprise him. He made a test batch of 20 signs and was surprised at the response he received.

“I didn’t really know this would catch fire,” he said. 

A Portland home displays a sign made by Daniel Barton to thank local health-care workers. Money raised from sale of the signs helps support Preble Street Resource Center. (Courtesy Daniel Barton)

So Barton decided to keep the project going. He used the $1,200 stimulus check he received from the federal government to print another 100 signs at Minuteman Press in South Portland and has only about a dozen left.

He said the signs cost $10 and can be ordered on Nextdoor.com. The money raised will be donated to the Preble Street Resource Center.

Barton, who works at the University of Southern Maine, said many people have purchased the signs for their own front yards, while others bought signs to surprise friends or family who work in health care.

“The most impactful thing is surprising people we know with this gift of thanks,” he said. “It doesn’t change what we’re going through and it doesn’t change the work they have to do every day. But it’s been infectious that we can at least give them a moment of appreciation.”

Initially the project was only meant to be in Portland. But the requests are now coming from throughout the area. He said he and his partner were putting out signs when a man stopped them and asked for one to surprise his daughter who lives in Belfast. Barton said they’ve delivered signs to South Portland, Scarborough, Falmouth, Windham, Gorham, and beyond (while maintaining appropriate social distance).

“We’re trying to be aware of people’s space,” he said. “We’ve been taking donations via Venmo, and after work and on weekends we go to their home addresses and plop in a sign. It’s a neighborly thing to do.”

He said the signs represent a “trifecta” of a positive message: They provide emotional support for health-care workers, and financial support for Minuteman Press and the Preble Street Resource Center.

“I think it’s important simply as a message of appreciation,” he said, not just to nurses and doctors in hospitals, but also to pharmacists, those working in nursing homes, and all others on the front lines.

“It’s just a small way to show gratitude,” Barton said.