Hands Across the Bridge is going virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the first time in 19 years that thousands of people won’t gather on the Interstate 5 Bridge on Labor Day to celebrate recovery from substance abuse.
Thomas Breitenbauch, a board member who’s helped organize the event since 2009, said it’s more crucial than ever to remind people of the importance of recovery.
“A lot of people are feeling isolated right now,” he said.
Hands Across the Bridge board members filmed a video essentially recreating the event. In the video, legislators and people with lived experience talk about the importance of recovery and their journeys. It also features a bridge walk, drummers and a bird release — this year honoring the event’s late founder, Louise Wedge.
“Everything that’s normally included in the event, that’s going to be there,” Breitenbauch said.
During filming the crew practiced social distancing and wore masks as much as possible, he said. The organization’s website, handsacrossthebridge.org, will be updated this weekend with the video.
Normally, every Labor Day, about 2,500 people walk from the borders of Oregon and Washington onto the I-5 Bridge and join hands to celebrate recovery. At least 1,000 additional people attend adjacent events at Esther Short Park in Vancouver and the Red Lion parking lot in Portland. Breitenbauch hopes the event is able to happen as usual in 2021.
People in recovery rely heavily on meetings for socialization and support and many of those gatherings have moved online. With people stuck at home, Breitenbauch said it can be harder to maintain sobriety. He’s seen an increase in substance abuse and relapses.
“We just want to get the message out there that we’re there for them and support their recovery,” Breitenbauch said.
Despite there not being an official permitted event, he knows some people still plan to walk across the bridge on Monday to honor Wedge.
This year’s theme for National Recovery Month, recognized every September, is celebrating connections.