Finally Cancer-Free, an Atheist Has Found Ways To Donate to the Places That Helped Cure Him

I met 23-year-old Matt Skeens over the summer at the Secular Student Alliance conference. I knew he was a great activist but I had no idea he had spent the past decade fighting cancer — Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He just went back for his last check-up at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and I’m happy to say he’s finally and officially cancer-free :)

Of course, he didn’t just go back for a last check-up. He visited the nearby Ronald McDonald House with a present: a giant collection of aluminum can tabs that ended up filling a 10-gallon barrel (and half of another):

Those tabs will be taken to a local recycling center where they will bring in around $400-500.

Skeens had been collecting these tabs for two years and a lot of people from Wise County, Virginia pitched in, including several local atheists. Not only that, he’s organized a couple charity basketball games that have raised around $3,000 total for St. Jude (a place that, despite its name, has no affiliation with the Catholic Church).

Topping all of that, Skeens’ Humanism was mentioned in a local newspaper’s article about him (behind a paywall but seen below):

“In [high] school I was somewhat involved. But it wasn’t really until I got out of high school and I had a car, and I kept going down there [to St. Jude] and realized I owe them a lot,” he said. “I’m a big humanist, so I like helping others and doing charities. It was 2011 when I really started getting involved, including collecting those tabs.”

It was during his final check-up that Matt briefly stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, the first time he’d stayed there since a decade ago when he was there for several months after receiving the last of his chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and a stem-cell transplant from St. Jude.

Matt told me he plans to continue collecting these tabs to donate to the Ronald McDonald House as well as holding events for St. Jude. He explained in an email why the places meant so much to him:

[St. Jude treats] kids from 70 different countries, so atheists/Christians/Muslims/Jews etc. have all been treated. They pay for all treatment. If you have insurance, they charge it and pick up the deductibles/co-pays and they cover every penny if you have no insurance. They also cover food, travel and lodging via places like the Ronald McDonald a few blocks away. Everything single thing is covered and no one is ever turned away.

The Ronald McDonald House of Memphis is the original and is one of only a few RMH’s that charge nothing to those staying. They provide rooms (with the whole nine yards), a shared kitchen space, $100 a week for groceries and they provide transportation to and from the store. It’s really an amazing 52-room facility that is run by a tiny staff and a large force of volunteers. Different community groups from across the country, including church groups, come in on the weekend and cook for the entire House. It would be amazing if surrounding secular groups would participate. The money we raise goes directly towards the House’s daily operations, which gets pretty high with all that is mentioned above and so much more.

If any readers would like to chip in to the wonderful causes, you can do so here and here.

It’s really amazing how much good Matt has done for these places, knowing that God isn’t about to pitch in to help.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • LesterBallard

    Hooray for Jesus; hooray for prayer!

    Seriously, great news.

  • Michaela Samuels

    I have never heard a bad thing about Ronald McDonald Houses and I’ve known several people who have stayed at them for various ailments. I love to see stories like this!

  • Psychotic Atheist

    I’ve never heard of someone collecting tabs and not the rest of the can. Do you folks in the US only recycle the tab and you just chuck the rest away?

  • Beth

    I had to use RMH when my oldest got sick, (he is fine now), and an in-law has a child with cancer (she is not fine) that used RMH five days a week. I frequently hit the drive thru for coffee and I always throw my change in the donation bin. They are such a great charity.

  • Beth

    No, all of it is recyclable, I wonder if its just easier to collect the tabs…people could just throw them in their pocket and take them to the collection box.

  • A3Kr0n

    I think it’s just easier to collect tabs. Less empty space, too.

  • Jacqui H

    You recycle the can without the tabs (many states have deposits of 5 or 10 cents to encourage you to bring them back to the store. BUT the tab itself contains plenty of aluminum and can be redeemed by itself for the scrap value of it’s weight. They are just more compact than the cans and therefore easier to collect to turn in en masse for charity

  • Matt Skeens

    They’re really a wonderful place. Thanks to Hemant for sharing my story about these great organizations that saved my life!

  • Verimius

    Pull tabs are not worth any more than their weight in scrap aluminum:

  • NG

    Cleaner, too.

  • Intelligent Donkey

    “But the public hasn’t gotten the message. Supposedly responsible people —
    e.g., the honchoes at your school — will organize pull tab collection
    drives without ever bothering to get the whole story. Urban legends
    expert Jan Brunvand reports that in 1989 a Minneapolis VFW post
    organized a pull tab collection drive for the local Ronald McDonald
    House. When Brunvand asked the organizers why they didn’t tell people to
    save whole cans, they lamely replied that there were “hygiene problems”
    and that people liked mailing in the tabs, even though the postage
    often exceeded the value of the aluminum. In other words, it’s not
    important to DO good as long as people FEEL good. Excuse me while I
    grind my teeth.”

  • Michaela Samuels

    A thank YOU for paying it forward!

  • Bitter Lizard

    Too…much…positive…energy…need troll…or will die…

  • Matt Skeens

    Just need to clear something up. RMH nor anyone is saying that the tabs are worth more than the can. They are, however, aluminum and can be recycled for cash. While it takes a lot of these tabs to get a decent amount of money, they are much more easier for the public to collect and RMH to deal with. I got in well over a million of these tabs, I could have never collected that many cans, stored them and transported them. I just picked these up, stored them in gallon jugs/containers and brought them down in my trunk. It’s a neat way everyone can pitch in a little and one of many ways RMH raises money, about 30k since the program started. People do save the cans and have donated the money to RMH, but the pull-tab program is what RMH organizes themselves.

    If you’ve done any fundraisers, you’ll know that a large part of what you do is raise awareness for the organization that will in return hopefully lead to other donations. Many of the participants made donations and signed up for monthly donations to St. Jude with the information provided at pickups and other events. These tabs brought in maybe $400-500, but awesome pieces like this and other coverage will possibly get some new donors to RMH and St. Jude. So as I said before no one is putting forth the urban legend, so no need to disparage the drive and all of those involved after assuming things because of a snopes article.

  • Matt Skeens

    It was a collection of a lot of people who did this. I was just a delivery guy. Thanks for the kind comments, you’re awesome!

  • Michaela Samuels

    *hearts* *unicorns* *rainbows of LOOOOOOOOVEEEEE*


  • Bitter Lizard
  • Psychotic Atheist

    Ah, OK, that kind of makes sense.