RIVER VALE, N.J. — Sixth-graders at Holdrum Middle School in River Vale listened in awe Monday as Lisa Oliveri Vreeland of Closter, founder of Robby’s Rabbits , told them the story of her stillborn son.
How he lived to four days old.
How she spent every moment she could with him.
The difference he made.
The love she still feels.
For the second year in a row, the students at Holdrum are supporting Robby’s Rabbits as a public service project.
The nonprofit sends a free stuffed rabbit — or another kind of stuffed animal — to newly bereaved parents all around the world. It is something cuddly and comforting for them to hold at a time of loss.
To date, tens of thousands of stuffed animals have been dispatched.
On Friday, any Holdrum student who donates a stuffed animal gets to wear pajamas to school. Last year, 260 were collected.
But the support signals something even bigger, said Debbie Chinnici, a sixth-grade counselor who helped organized the sixth-grade assembly for Oliveri Vreeland along with Megan Rizer and some of the students.
Both Chinnici and Rizer are language arts teachers.
“People don’t know how to talk about this,” Chinnici said. “Having Lisa here helps breaks down a taboo.”
Her presentation touches the children, Rizer added.
“They respond well to her story,” she said, “and they always have tons of questions.”
It was no different Monday.
After Oliveri Vreeland spoke, one boy told her he still didn’t understand what a rainbow child was.
“My second son was a rainbow baby,” she explained. “That’s what we call a child born after a loss because rainbows appear after a storm.”
It was clear she was referring to the emotional storm of losing a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth or after birth.
Oliveri Vreeland, a teacher at East Brook Middle School in Paramus, knows well how to speak to the subject at an age-appropriate level.
Holdrum Principal James Cody said student support of Robby’s Rabbits fits well with a theme at the school.
“We’ve always asked our students to try to make a difference, even here at school,” he said.
As for Oliveri Vreeland, she was impressed by the collective effort of the families, administration, teachers, staff and students to support her nonprofit.
“They’re truly setting an example to live by for the next generation,” she said.