Riverdale 7 and 8 Graders Christmas Giving Project

By Molly Seales

During the Christmas season, most of us get very busy in the hustle and bustle and often forget that the true meaning of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We forget that before the colored lights and Christmas tree that our Lord and Savior was born in a stable in placed in a manger filled with hay. On that first Christmas, God gave us the greatest gift we would ever receive-his Son, Jesus. For many years, middle school teacher Bethany Seales has tried to get her classes to slow down a bit and focus on the giving aspect of the Christmas season rather than the receiving aspect. Each year she chooses an organization or an individual that is struggling or does good for others daily, expecting nothing in return. She encourages her students to give to this person or organization. She said it is so heartwarming to see students give their concession stand dollar or $10 of their birthday money to help someone else.

This past summer, Mrs. Bethany’s husband was diagnosed with colon cancer, and she was introduced to a charity she wished she had never been introduced to – the Caring Shirts Ministry. Shortly after school began, she received a package at school with a most unusual gift enclosed. It was a t-shirt in which one sleeve buttoned down from the neck to the end of the sleeves. This design gives easy access to the patient’s port. Upon further investigation, she discovered that this shirt came from a group called Caring Shirts Ministry. They are based out of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and this ministry was formed by Katherine Oldenburg. This is what Ms. Oldenburg said about Caring Shirts on its Facebook page. “June of 2019 my granddaughter was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was a shock to her as she had no symptoms and was about to celebrate her 35th birthday. She would be hospitalized for the first couple of weeks and one week a month for a five-day, 24-hour continuous chemo treatment. After the initial shock, she was ready to fight. However, she hated the hospital gowns. Walking around with her rear showing was not an option. Being fully dressed was fine until she realized that she couldn’t change or shower well due to being hooked up to the continuous chemo. That’s when her wonderful coworkers at Riverhills Band got together and bought her some shirts which one of the girls altered to snap down the side so she could change. They even had plastic snaps so that she could wear them while having MRI/Pet scans. They were just awesome! It allowed her to wear regular clothes and be able to change. I was so touched by them. I thought…why has no one else thought about this? This is awesome! While I couldn’t’ help her fight, I could help others. So with the help of my church family and friends, we started Caring Shirts. We started by donating them to her cancer floor. Soon we were making them for people who didn’t even live in our state. The have gone to children as well as adults. Some do not even have cancer but other health issues. Thousands of shirts have been distributed across the USA to almost every state, as well as Canada, Australia, Ireland, England, South Africa, Wales, and Russia. We will ship anywhere, and there is never a cost to the patient. We are funded through love offerings and donations.”

This ministry really touched Mrs. Bethany’s heart, and she decided that this would be her Christmas giving project for 2021. The class goal was $100 for the Caring Shirts Ministry, but as usual, her students, parents, and alumni donors stepped up BIG. The 7th and 8th grade classes collected a total of $520 for Caring Shirts. When Ms. Oldenburg found out, she shed tears of joy. She said, “My heart is so full. Thank you and your students a zillion times. Tell the kids that their money will get shirts to 52 people.” She was completely overwhelmed by the generosity of a small group of 7thand 8th grade students and their parents.

I asked Mrs. Bethany, who also happens to be my mom, why she thought projects such as this were so important. She responded, “We are so blessed in our daily lives that we often forget those who are going through unimaginable things. I try to instill in my students that at Christmas and always, we should be aware of those around us who may need a blessing. When we see those people, we should always strive to help them if we can. What better time than Christmas to share joy with others?”  I know that we are blessed with a wonderful, unselfish group of students and parents at Riverdale Academy, and their generosity to this cause was further group. Merry Christmas, and remember that if you have the opportunity, “Be the good.”

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