What do Harry Potter, Mario, a Cabbage Patch doll in a package and a Twisted Sister band member have in common? Each of them could be seen at Dickinson Middle School handing out food.
DMS Paraprofessional Todd Selle wore a different costume each day to pass out meals to students and their families while the school was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure changed the positive atmosphere of the school as teachers were suddenly without their students.
"That first couple of meetings after school was cancelled — or at least postponed for awhile at that time — it was just kind of an ominous feeling ... No kids around. Not sure if they're going to come back ... It just didn't feel right, and I go, 'I need to do something. I've got to break the tension. I've got to liven it up," Selle said.
When the students came to school to pick up their Chromebooks for online learning at home, his job was to greet the kids and cheer them up, and he did so in a turkey costume.
"It was fun, especially at that time when everybody was so uncertain and scared ... You've got to laugh. It's okay to just relax and enjoy yourself, be goofy ... We can always look for something bad. Let's look for something good," Selle said.
That started a sort of quarantine tradition. Day after day, students, parents and staff looked forward to seeing Selle's latest costume.
"The kids really enjoyed when I was the hot dog," he said. "I was a dancing hot dog. I actually got requested from one ... small kid who was like maybe five years old, he goes, 'You need to be a hot dog!' I go, 'I already was one!' and he goes, 'Be it again!' So I brought it back. As soon as he got (there), I took off whatever costume I had on and made sure I put that back on for him."
The costumes were a big hit, not just with the kids but with their parents, too.
"There was a number of them that created signs and drawings and pictures that they would give to us ... There were different pictures of me in their favorite costume," Selle said. "There's so many people that have got in touch with me either on Facebook or text messages saying, 'I look forward to this everyday. I show it to my coworkers. We can't wait for your next video. We're going to be so sad when it's over.'
Selle estimates that he has about 30 complete costumes in his collection.
"I grew up as a kid with a costume closet," he said. "My parents had one and then we always had hand-me-downs. I had older siblings, so whenever they got a costume as a kid it ended up in there, and I ended up wearing it years later. It was just something that I've grown up with. As I got into junior high, high school and college, I was in theater, and so there were costumes that my mom would make for some of those shows that I got to keep."
Some of his favorite costumes are decade-themed.
"I'm a child of the 80's so I love the 80's-themed costumes," Selle said. "One that I had a lot of fun with — and I didn't know if it would go over with the kids — was Sloth from The Goonies. I have a Superman shirt and the mask, which is kind of weird and creepy, but the kids got a kick out of it. They loved it. They had a lot of fun with it."
Both of Selle's parents were teachers. His father worked at Hagen Junior High School and his mother was a music teacher at Jefferson Elementary School.
"She (his mother) would put on musicals and plays and that sort of thing for every single grade all year long, so we always had little costumes. She would be sewing this or making this ... She did do theater in college, less so as an adult," Selle said. "My dad is a big clown. He's just always clowning around, telling jokes, having fun. That was the atmosphere we grew up in."
Selle's mother, Beth Selle, passed away in 2016 after battling breast cancer for a second time, but her memory lives on in the costumes he wears.
"Now every time I make a costume or put on a costume I always think of her," he said. "My mother was a great seamstress and creator. ... She helped out making a lot of those costume as well, so I don't really throw any of them away. Some of those costumes are — gosh — at least 15 years plus (old). I started wearing her costumes right off the bat ... One of them was a pink bunny outfit from A Christmas Story ... That was one of the first ones she made for me, and I really love that one. She made a Mayor McCheese hamburger head that's like three feet plus in diameter. It's this huge thing to wear on my head."
For some of his decade-themes costumes, he adds items she actually wore during those years, and every year for St. Patrick's Day, he and two of his brothers dress up with orange beards that their mother had crocheted years ago.
Now he shares those traditions with his second family at DMS.
"It’s a community. It’s a family. Whenever we need anything, whenever things go down, whenever things are great, we’re always there to celebrate each other. I come to work, and I’m not with co-workers; I’m with friends, especially working with the children as well. That’s why you do it," he said.