Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bracelet project raises eating disorder awareness

In a country where an estimated eight million people struggle with eating disorders, one Marist student is making a difference.
Junior Erika Giannelli makes and sells bracelets of colorful wooden, glass and plastic beads to raise awareness of eating disorders. She calls her bracelets "Freedom Beads" and the proceeds of her project benefit the Renfrew Center, a residential eating disorder treatment facility in Philadelphia. So far, the project has raised almost $1,700.
Having struggled with an eating disorder herself and having attended the Renfrew Center about two years ago, Giannelli said she started the project to bring more attention to eating disorders, what she called "the elephant in the room," that everyone sees but isn't sure how to bring up.
The proceeds will help the Renfrew Foundation start a private fund to support one girl's stay at the center. According to the foundation's Web site,, the Renfrew Foundation is a "tax-exempt, nonprofit organization advancing the education, prevention, research, and treatment of eating disorders."
The foundation conducts research, provides financial assistance, and educates policy makers to remove barriers to treatment.
Giannelli said she was supposed to spend five weeks at the center, but her insurance dropped her coverage after only two weeks and without notice. She said this happens to patients all the time and that "no one gets their time."
"If I could help one person get extended I'd be happy," Giannelli said.
Debbie Luker, Foundation Coordinator for the Renfrew Center Foundation, said the donations from Freedom Beads will help fund a patient who needs an extended stay. The cost of treatment at the Renfrew Center is about $8,000 per week.
"I'm glad she's able to give something back and help someone else," Luker said. "She's doing very well."
Senior Jilliam McPhail said she bought one Freedom Beads bracelets for herself and one to give as a gift last semester.
"I think it is a wonderful fundraiser that Erika is doing to raise awareness about eating disorders while also raising money for someone who might otherwise not be able to afford treatment," McPhail said.
Sophomore Jen Espina said she bought a bracelet last semester.
"I wear it a lot and I've gotten a lot of compliments on it. It matches every outfit and I knew the money was going toward a really great cause," Espina said.
Senior Alida Elsbree has bought Freedom Beads earrings and said she has helped Giannelli make bracelets.
"I think it's an amazing project she's doing to really make a difference in someone's life," Elsbree said. "She's very dedicated to the scholarship fund and she makes beautiful, stylish jewelry."
Last semester, with the necessary club affiliation from the Dance Club, Giannelli was able to set up shop in the Champagnat Breezeway and Dyson about once a week. The Dance Club also donated $500 to Freedom Beads.
Giannelli also started a Facebook group where she has promoted her project and sold bracelets to people across the country. Giannelli will continue selling bracelets for $10 each this semester.

Originally appeared 2/5/2009 in The Circle

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