Jeff Robertson hopes to reach a quarter of a million dollars in fundraising for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital this year — only the third year of his grassroots fundraising effort, Skeletons for St. Jude.
“In 2020, during Covid when everybody was cooped up in their homes, we started decorating our home with skeletons,” says Robertson, a Holly Springs resident.
“ABC11 came and interviewed us about it. After (the segment) aired, our family got together and we asked, ‘How can we use this media coverage to do something good?’
“Let’s see if people would donate to St. Jude if we put a sign in our front yard. We don’t know if we’ll make $0.50 or $5,000.
“The premise behind our effort was, if you like what you see in these Halloween displays, please consider donating some money so we can help get sick children out of the hospital. … After maybe 20, 25 days, we raised $8,000,” Robertson says.
And their Holly Springs home became a community destination, attracting guests from near and far to view the display.
The next year the Robertson family of four felt the need to go bigger — “So we did,” says Jeff.
Using social media, Robertson expanded the footprint of Skeletons for St. Jude nationwide, offering fundraiser signage that could be downloaded, printed, and then displayed at homes around the country.
As they await their annual ransacking of the Robertson home, the skeleton props are stored in the house’s crawl space.
In 2020, an unlucky Terminix technician came to do an annual treatment and inspection of the home.
“I forgot to tell him, and he opened the (crawl space) door and got a good scare at first. I felt horrible, but then we had a good laugh afterwards.”
“I was kind of skeptical that very few people would want to do that, but it exploded,” he says.
Four hundred homes joined the cause by the end of 2021, raising a total of $151,000, bringing the year-over-year total to $162,000.
“And the cool thing about it is, we did that — and when I say we, it really is a team effort — in less than 80 cumulative days.”
Thus making Skeletons for St. Jude the hospital’s largest DIY fundraiser — a term St. Jude uses to describe privately led fundraisers. This year’s goal is to reach $250,000 raised and add 600 partner homes.
Though Robertson “never in a million years” imagined leading a skeleton decorating outfit, it has become a nearly year-round effort for him, with time divided amongst recruiting partner homes on social media, communicating with St. Jude’s team, maintaining the website, and taking ideas from his core supporters.
Let’s not forget the pranks he pulls on his own family.
“I make a new prop every year. My fun thing to do was to hide it somewhere in the house, in a closet or a bathroom, etc. And then I would set a camera up and film (my family) getting scared. We called it the 30 Days of Scared, and I got a blast out of it. Now they kind of know the game, like, ‘OK, Dad’s going to put a skeleton sitting on my toilet,’” says Robertson.
More than 70 skeletons, amassed gradually over several years, plus ghouls and monsters galore round out the collection.
Careful observers may witness the ongoing storyline Robertson has created through his evolving displays.
“The first theme in 2020 was skeletons are attacking to get inside the house to get our Halloween candy.”
The second year, the skeleton infestation was so severe, they kicked the Robertson family out of their own home.
“We had an eviction notice in our front yard. I took pictures of my kids and my wife bound and shackled, then had a mannequin of myself being pulled out of the house by the skeleton,” he says.
- Visit the Robertson home during the month of October: 109 Skygrove Drive, Holly Springs
- Donate online: skeletonsforhope.org
- Become a partner home: Download and display the fundraiser sign. Instructions and files can be found at skeletonsforhope.org/signs
- Join the Facebook group: “Skeletons for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital”
This year, look for marauding skeletons pitted against medieval creatures who have overtaken the house. Family-favorite Netflix show Stranger Things influenced new props and details as well.
Displays are kept family friendly — not too graphic or gory.
“I’ve got a team of advisers, and they range in age from 8 to 16. In the neighborhood and during carpool they give me ideas all the time”
It takes about three weeks to erect the full display. Starting in early October, a steady stream of vehicles visit Skygrove Drive in the Sunset Oaks neighborhood.
“It’s exciting to see how excited the kids get. And it’s especially exciting to see the generosity from so many folks who donate,” he says.
The Robertson family has long supported the work of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, so it was a clear choice during their early discussions about collecting donations. One of the very first families to visit the display made that decision even more meaningful.
A few days after the news broadcast — which aired before the Robertsons started the fundraiser — a Skeletons for St. Jude sign was on display in the yard when a young family visited the skeleton display.
“The daughter was going through treatment with St. Jude and was sitting in the back of the car. The parents got very, very emotional and were so appreciative of everybody’s efforts and raising money. I looked at (their) daughter, and she’s going through such a tough time in her life, and she was just grinning like nothing mattered. She was totally smiling and happy and excited.”
“We decided that for as long as we can, we’re going to keep going with this effort.”