HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. (KFDX/KJTL) — The return of fall each year marks the start of the holiday season for many Americans, with spooky yard decor beginning to pop up in neighborhoods across the country as Halloween approaches.
Since the fall of 2020, a viral fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to benefit families impacted by childhood cancer has coincided with the spooky season, growing in popularity every year thanks to social media.
And it involves 12-foot skeletons in front yards.
Skeletons for St. Jude is a nationwide fundraising effort during the weeks leading up to Halloween when individuals across the country use their haunted displays to raise money to support children and families impacted by childhood cancer.
Since its conception in 2020, Skeletons for St. Jude has raised more than $400,000 for families with children battling cancer, with over 630 homes across the country participating.
The annual fundraiser originated in Holly Springs, North Carolina, even though that’s not where St. Jude’s headquarters are located. In fact, the idea didn’t even come from St. Jude, but rather from a family finding a purpose for the public platform they were given.
Jeff Robertson, a husband, father of two, and retired member of the United States military living in Holly Springs, said he had no idea he was even creating Skeletons for St. Jude when he set up an elaborate Halloween display in his front yard.
“It was not planned by any means,” Robertson said. “It just kind of evolved. I was just being a goofy dad and bought a lot of skeletons and had them attacking the house,” Robertson said.
A local news station found out about Robertson’s display and sent a reporter to put together a story about it. After it aired, Robertson said he sat down with his wife, son, and daughter to discuss how they could use the news story to do something good for others.
So, Robertson said, his family decided to do a fundraiser, asking people who enjoyed their Halloween display to donate to St. Jude and help sick children get well so they could be released from the hospital and come enjoy the display too. They put a sign with a QR code to donate in their front yard, not thinking they’d raise enough money to make a significant impact.
But as it turns out, they did.
“We raised about $7,000,” Robertson said. “We were like, wow, we thought we were going to make 50 bucks.”
Robertson said one family in particular came to see the display they’d seen on the news. He said while he was inside his home, a man he’d never met before came to his door and knocked. When Robertson answered the door, he said the man was on the verge of tears, asking him to come outside to his car in front of their house.
Robertson said the man’s wife was in the car, as well as their child. He said the little girl was laughing and having a blast looking at the Robertson’s display.
What Robertson didn’t know at the time was that the child was a patient receiving treatment at St. Jude. It wasn’t until the child’s visibly emotional father thanked him for what he was doing that he realized what was happening right in front of his family home.
“She’s going through a really tough time,” Robertson said. “The parents are going through the same, or maybe even a worse time, because it’s their child, and yet she was able to get some enjoyment for a moment in time looking at these ridiculous, you know, plastic skeletons.”
Robertson said that interaction made the decision to raise money for St. Jude for a second year an easy one.
“I was very moved by it, so I decided to keep doing it,” Robertson said.
In 2021, Robertson decided to take his fundraising efforts even further by joining Halloween decorating groups on Facebook and asking members to join him in putting up signs requesting donations for St. Jude in their display.
“My assumption was nobody’s going to want to do this,” Robertson said. “They don’t know me, it’s just not going to happen. And then, low and behold, we had about 430 homes across the U.S. and we ended up raising $151,000 dollars that year.”
In 2022, Robertson said he was yet again shocked at the response to the Skeletons for St. Jude campaign. Over 630 homes participated, including homes from nearly every state in the country. Over $206,000 was raised in year three, but Robertson said it was how that number was reached that was truly eye-opening.
“There were no major donors,” Robertson said. “There were no big corporations that provided tens of thousands of dollars. These are thousands of people, literally thousands of people across the U.S. and they’re donating $5 or $10 or $20.”
Robertson said the 2023 campaign is off to a great start, with their ultimate goal of raising more than half a million dollars total over the first four years of the campaign well within reach. As of the publication of this story, almost 230 homes across the country are already participating and over $27,000 has been raised for the 2023 campaign.
“It’s been reassuring to see the generosity of so many people,” Robertson said.
What Robertson had intended to be a teachable moment for his children has turned into a viral fundraiser that continues to grow in the number of participants and the amount of funds raised.
“Something I always try to teach to my kids is to do something bigger than yourself,” Robertson said. “Don’t just, you know, think about yourself all the time. Like, how can you help others? We live in this phenomenal country, and you should always try to give back when you can.”
More information about Skeletons for St. Jude can be found here. Everyone is invited to participate.