Local organization shares Moonshadow’s Spirit to help those with eating disorders

23 May

I learned something the other day, a fact that just blew me away: eating disorders — specifically Anorexia Nervosa — are the second leading cause of death for mental illnesses.

That was just one of the many eye-opening things I found out last week when I sat down for a conversation with Sharon Mathiason to talk about Moonshadow’s Spirit, the Webster-based nonprofit organization she and her husband David created to honor the memory of their daughter Jennifer.

Jennifer struggled with an eating disorder for 10 years, which began when she was just a teenager. She eventually recovered, but she also suffered from extreme depression, which often accompanies eating disorders, and passed away in February, 2009 at the age of 26.

Jennifer was very proud of her recovery, and had become committed to sharing her story. She spoke to junior high school classes and through online forums — using the pseudonym “Moonshadow’s Spirit” — encouraged other sufferers to seek out treatment and fight the tough fight.

After Jennifer passed, one of Jennifer’s closest friends told Sharon and David that their daughter was worried people couldn’t get treatment because they didn’t have insurance or couldn’t pay for it. After hearing that, figuring out a way to honor Jennifer’s memory wasn’t a huge leap. Moonshadow’s Spirit, Inc. was born, its mission to offer financial assistance to individuals with eating disorder diagnoses who are seeking treatment.

Just one year later, in March 2010, Moonshadow’s Spirit presented its first financial award, and has continued to hand out awards every year since. (They actually just celebrated their 100th donation.) The checks have gone to treatment centers all over the country, helping patients as young as 11 and as old as 60.

The awards, handed out quarterly, have ranged from $500 to $7,000 depending on need and how much money the organization has on hand. They’d like to hand out even larger checks, but raising funds, Sharon said, is slow going.

“Raising money is not easy for a nonprofit,” she said. “If we were helping dogs and cats we’d raise ten times more money than we do trying to help people. That’s kind of blunt but it’s true…. It’s hard to get people interested in eating disorders.” 

Sharon has recently expanded the organization’s mission to include education. She speaks at schools as far away as Hamburg (near Buffalo) and LeRoy, and twice every year visits the health classes at Webster Schroeder and Thomas high schools, accompanied by young people who are in recovery. They share their stories and some frightening facts about a disease which is too often hidden from view.

That fact I led my blog with? That was just the tip of the iceberg of the surprising things I’ve learned in the last few days. For example:

  • 11 million people in the United States have an eating disorder.
  • Almost half of all Americans know someone with an eating disorder.
  • 11% of high school students have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • About 30% of diagnosed eating disorders are in males. Most males are probably undiagnosed; they tend to over-exercise, which is a form of bulimia, but not all doctors see it.
  • Only 30% of medical schools offer eating disorders as an elective.

Visit the Moonshadow’s Spirit website for more information about this surprisingly common and deadly disease. You’ll also find a link there where you can donate to help fund the fight. And if you’d like someone to come to your meeting or organization to talk about eating disorders, email Sharon at info@moonshadowsspirit.org.

It’s a party!

Sharon and David and the Moonshadow’s Spirit team would like to hold a small party to celebrate handing out their 100th check. They want to get a cake and share it with everyone at some community event. If you have any ideas on where they might be able to do that (without having to jump through too many hoops), please email Sharon at info@moonshadowsspirit.org.

* * *

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(posted 5/23/2022)

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