Classmates Surprise Friend on Her 8th Birthday After She Has to Cancel Party Due to Coronavirus

"It was unexpected. It was beautiful. It was something we'll never forget," Miko Mader tells PEOPLE of his daughter Lyla's birthday surprise

An 8-year-old girl couldn’t hold her birthday party as planned due to the outbreak of the coronavirus — but that didn’t stop her friends from celebrating the occasion in another way.

Lyla Mader turned 8 on Sunday, but knew ahead of time that she wouldn’t be celebrating her birthday alongside her classmates as usual, her father Miko Mader tells PEOPLE.

“With everything unfolding in the past few weeks, we weren’t planning a big party this year,” Mader explains, referencing the coronavirus pandemic. “We had told her that it was going to be a very different birthday… [and] were just going to do family.”

Unfortunately, the rapidly-spreading virus changed those plans, too, and forced her parents to cancel the family gathering.

Though Lyla hadn’t expressed disappointment about the cancellations, Mader and his wife Anne worried that their daughter, who had been home from school since March 13, might be upset.

“At times, quarantine has been difficult for the entire family. Anne and I were concerned the circumstances could bring more sadness than joy on Lyla’s 8th birthday,” he says. “She had not expressed disappointment as much as we, as parents, were trying to spare her from disappointment.”

Lyla who had to cancel her 8th bday party but her friends showed up to sing happy bday instead

In an effort to make her day memorable, the Maders turned to Facebook and asked their friends and family to send Lyla some birthday wishes.

“The idea was we would show them to her after morning schoolwork to brighten things up… so her day would be positive,” Mader explains.

But their Facebook friends had something even better in mind.

“The mother of one of Lyla’s friends asked if we would be around in the afternoon,” he recalls. “Without anywhere else to go, we confirmed. We went about the rest of our day when around 4:45 we heard car horns honking away outside.”

Opening the door to their Bloomfield Hills, Michigan home, the Mader family was shocked to see a line of cars pulling into their driveway. Inside each vehicle was a parent and one of Lyla’s classmates, who sat out a window holding birthday signs.

Once they had all pulled in, the group started singing “Happy Birthday” to Lyla as she stood on her front porch beside her parents. Her father recorded the moment, while her mother watched on in tears.

“I think it took her a while to process as it was happening,” Mader says. “She didn’t think anything ‘big’ was going to happen at all — [and] us too! That’s why this was so surprising and special!”

“It was unexpected. It was beautiful. It was something we’ll never forget,” he adds.

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Reflecting on the surprise, Mader says he and Anne were especially moved by their friends’ effort to make Lyla’s day special, even amid the challenges that homeschooling and social distancing have brought.

“To see that many families coordinate, load up the cars, and drive over was touching,” he explains. “We know it’s not easy to balance working from home and childcare, so to take the time out of an upended routine is especially kind.”

And despite being required to stay six feet away from each other, Mader says his family has never felt closer to their friends.

“It’s funny that something like social distancing can actually make a community feel closer,” he says. “We’re grateful to be part of such a community.”

“I think it’s a great lesson of how to show others your appreciation,” he continues. “Spreading kindness without spreading germs and maintaining your ties to the community in safe but meaningful ways.”

As of Monday afternoon, there have been at least 156,391 cases and 2,897 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to The New York Times. In Michigan, at least 5,693 cases and 158 deaths have been reported, according to the Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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