NEWTON — When one gives out love, Donna Cross said it replaces fear, a message she would like to spread each time she wears a whimsical costume and reads to children in a social-distancing style.
A licensed hairstylist and a paraprofessional who works with autistic children at the Franklin Elementary School, Cross, 53, who has been impacted in both careers during the coronavirus pandemic, said she understands what it is like to be afraid, in such an uncertain time. After the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when her children were small, she described how the fear sparked a period of depression in her life. However, over time, Cross said she learned to channel that fear and convert it into something positive, through meditation, writing and simply by reaching out to others.
“When challenging times happen, we have a choice,” said Cross. “The fear we put out has an impact and the love we put out has an impact.”
Cross also said she has related in her life to sadness, especially during the loss of a child.
Replacing that fear and sadness with love during the coronavirus crisis started simply for Cross, knowing the fear the others around her were experiencing from the pandemic. To counter that, she dug into her closet and pulled out a Tigger costume, walking her dog while dressed up as the famous, bouncing tiger. She did this for the first time on April 14, even walking into pick up take-out foods dressed in costume, to spread cheer, with those who crossed her path— from the appropriate distance of course — laughing over and smiling at her attire.
After that, Cross regrouped, because she was concerned how children were feeling, cooped up at home and afraid of the virus.
It started with one small gesture, where she offered to read to her friend’s child in Stillwater, in costume at a distance, while their child stood on the front porch. Cross said she is an animated storyteller who enjoys using different voices as she plays out the stories she reads, which has been entertaining to the children she meets.
Since then, she has appeared on the sidewalks adjacent to and even on the back decks of families’ homes, in a bunny costume, as a fuzzy green dragon, dressed as a yellow minion, as a fairy in a tutu and in a llama costume. Sometimes she has read books from a distance on the front steps, while children sit behind a screen door within their home. On back porches, she has been invited to peer into the window in her friendly dragon costume, to the delight of toddlers, who are smiling and laughing on the other side of the glass.
Cross, her friends and her children conclude their visits together with “air hugs” from a distance.
As she visited families, Cross said she heard some of their stories, learning some families were in need of financial assistance to buy food, some out of work or struggling with their businesses. After sharing stories with her Facebook friends, who were following her costumed journey as she posted selfies and photos taken by the families she visited, Cross said her Facebook friends who could help, donated funds to her Venmo and PayPal accounts.
Since she started on her journey, friends have donated not only books to read and costumes to wear, but made donations for her to purchase necessities for those she encounters, as well as donated food, gift cards, diapers and other items to help.
After receiving her first donations, Cross reported to her Facebook friends, “Your first gift went to a single Mom of three little ones, who before this COV19, was faced with some challenges. She is a fighter, she is working hard to change her life.”
She plans to collect donations and continue reading, as long as she needs to, Cross said.
To make a donation on PayPal, visit: www.paypal.me/dcross1202. To make a donation on Venmo, her username is Donna-Cross-9 and email email@example.com.
Jennifer Jean Miller can also be reached by phone at: 973-383-1230; on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JMillerNJH and on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JMillerNJH.