Media contact: Tom Hughes, (919) 966-6047, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012
Written by Elizabeth Swaringen for UNC Health Care
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Betty Hollingsworth made no apologies to Clement C. Moore — or anyone else — when she made stockings for SECU Family House patients with care and convinced bikers from her church to deliver them there.
“When you love people as much as I do, this is what you do,” said Hollingsworth, 58, of Sampson County, a life-long caregiver personally and professionally. “I sew about 60 stockings every year and ask my fellow biker church members to fill them with personal care items and then deliver them where there’s a need. Last year we helped homeless veterans.”
But this year, Hollingsworth gave the nod for patients at SECU Family House to receive the full-size felt stockings after she spent three months at the 40-bedroom hospital hospitality house as caregiver for Pat Polera, a friend of 28 years, who was treated for leukemia at UNC Hospitals.
Minutes from UNC Hospitals, SECU Family House provides comfortable, convenient and affordable housing for seriously ill adult patients and their family member caregivers. And it builds community among strangers from across the state and nation who bond forever by virtue of the support and respite they found themselves or when a loved one was seriously ill.
“Family House is dear to my heart because I know what it’s like to be a patient and a caregiver,” said Hollingsworth, herself a nearly 30-year survivor of breast cancer who has enjoyed a career in home health care. “I made my own list of what should go in the stockings, and I didn’t have to check it twice.”
During October and November, Hollingsworth’s fellow church members at Freedom Biker Church in Fayetteville set about filling the stockings with shampoo, lotion, toothbrushes and toothpaste, hard candy, tissues and pencil and paper. “You always need to take notes,” she said. Knit caps were added to the stockings for patients who had lost their hair to cancer treatment.
On Dec. 8, the kick-stands came up mid-morning and the bikers roared off on a “Ride for Hope” to deliver the stockings to Family House. The “entry fee” per rider was three cans of food that were donated to the communal pantry at Family House.
By the time the bikers arrived in Chapel Hill, the gray skies of a foggy morning gave way to an unseasonably warm day. At noon Hollingsworth served bikers and Family House residents a spaghetti lunch, her specialty from her Long Island, Italian heritage. “I made eight pounds of spaghetti,” she said.
After dessert, the stockings were distributed with the same care with which they were made. A Harley Santa, who goes only by the name Red, led the way. “Most had never seen a Santa suit of black and orange or a motorcycle that looked like a sleigh,” Hollingsworth said.
Hollingsworth took extra stockings to patients in the bone marrow transplant unit at UNC Hospitals, where Pat was treated. While there she took the opportunity to visit friends she made at Family House who have returned for additional treatment. “I’ve made friends for life here, and we do keep in touch,” she said.
Additional extras were left at Family House for those who don’t yet to know they’ll be spending the holidays there.
“It’s hard, especially at the holidays, to be separated from those you love whether it’s temporary because you are somewhere for treatment or whether the separation is permanent,” said Hollingsworth, who lost her husband, Kenny, in 2001, and her boyfriend of seven years, Tom, in February this year.
But loss and need fuel Hollingsworth — the mother of Angela, who works for Highland Country Club in Fayetteville, and James, a sophomore at UNC—to help those who otherwise may not have found their place in this world.
“I grew up in New York around a lot of different faiths, so I’m sensitive to not crossing the line and offending anyone by what I say or do,” Hollingsworth said. “Every day I have the opportunity to be an ambassador and talk about my faith and act on it. I know you can’t just keep on taking, but you have to give back. And I know you can’t judge on the outside what’s going on inside.”
Like Freedom Biker Church.
“We have a new building that looks like a church in the front, but the sides come up like a garage,” Hollingsworth said. “Our members work on their bikes there and talk to people who are troubled. By our own admission, we march to a different beat of the drum, but we are a ministry that changes lives.”
“Our church started in a barn,” Betty said, fully mindful of the symbolism in this season of hope and miracles. “What we do as individuals and as a church — everything — is God’s plan.”