Four years ago, Becky Dees, a technology teacher and photographer, began selling buttons of student athletes at Winona High School to parents, grandparents, family members, and friends, mainly during football season as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Dees is part of the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District’s team supporting the children’s hospital.
This year, her annual fundraiser took a different turn as her buttons became a way to help the community deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Dees got the idea to make buttons for nurses, doctors, teachers, and other professionals to help people see their smiles behind their masks, worn to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“I just thought, ‘Oh, I’ll make a few for the teachers and the medical staff,’ and it spread like wildfire,” Dees said.
Dees said she had made buttons for teachers, faculty, and staff in schools in Pelahatchie, Kosciusko, and Amory – even those living as far as Texas and Tennessee.
She said she put it on Facebook, and volunteers began to buy buttons. Dees described it as a “domino effect;” when the buttons came in, they never stopped making them.
Dees said she sold over 450 buttons so far at $4 per button, and she’s still taking orders for sports buttons.
“We’re not to our goal, but we’re almost there,” she said.
Dees began raising money for St. Jude and participating in the St. Jude Half Marathon in memory of her son Greg Dees, who passed away from leukemia a few years ago.
“Greg was too old to go to St. Jude -- I think you have to be under 25 -- and Greg was 28. His care was at MD Anderson,” Dees said.
In the first year after her son’s passing, she raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, but she found that most of the money goes to research.
“Research is good, don’t get me wrong, but I personally know families whose children were saved at St. Jude, and I know families whose children have died at St. Jude. But, I know those families were fed, housed, and never received a bill because of the donations, and I wanted to help to the best of my ability -- because everyone deserves more birthdays and mommas don’t deserve to bury their children,” she said.
Dees participates annually in the half marathon for St. Jude, something she shares with a team of others participating on the school district’s team.
“There are no winners, and no one wins anything. Some people qualify for the Boston Marathon, but there are finishers, and it’s the fact that you finished that matters,” she said.
Dees participated in her first marathon in 2016 and has competed every year since.
“If you sign up to be a hero, there’s bronze, silver, and platinum. I signed up for platinum, which means I have to raise $3,000. They also have your bank information, so what you don’t raise they debit from your account to make up for the balance. So, that made me really want to raise my money,” she said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Dees said this year St. Jude’s is holding a virtual race.
“You just do it in your area with Track my Walk [app] or something and sends in your timeframe and report,” she said.
Dees said this year, St. Jude gave the option to defer and push fundraising back to 2021, but she and her team chose to move forward.
“The children can’t defer their cancer; they can’t defer their treatment, so I wanted to do it this year because they need it,” she said.
She said the buttons were a major undertaking, one she couldn’t do without the help of her husband, Johnnie Dees. She said it was hard keeping up with who purchased and pictures, but her husband was a great help in making them.
“We didn’t do them in one undertaking, it was a period of time,” Dees said.
Dees is still raising money through her button fundraiser for St. Jude, and for more information on purchasing a button, contact Dees on Facebook. Because everyone deserves more birthdays.