Crowds gathered for good food and a good cause Saturday at the Saving Eliza Food Truck Rodeo.
More than half a dozen local food vendors, including 2 Fat 2 Fly, Ally & Eloise Bakeshop and the Wurst Wagon, joined for a fundraiser in support of 4-year-old Eliza O'Neill, who was diagnosed a year ago with the terminal genetic disease Sanfilippo Syndrome.
The disease causes a toxic material to build up in patients’ brains and bodies, leading to severe disability and death, often before they even reach their teenage years. Funding is lacking for a gene therapy treatment trial that could cure Eliza and others suffering from the disease.
A GoFundMe campaign called Saving Eliza has raised more than $1 million in less than a year to support the potentially lifesaving medical trial.
Alyssa Greenhouse, a 20-year-old pre-med student at Duke University, organized the food truck fundraiser.
“There’s unfortunate things with medicine that you can’t control, but you can control how you respond to it,” she said. “Right now, there’s no cure. But we have the chance to change it, so that really kind of stuck with me. It’s one thing to practice medicine, but it’s another thing to kind of change it yourself.”
She and others are part of "Eliza's Army," a group of about 15 supporters of the O'Neill family who gather weekly to brainstorm fundraising and awareness events. Next month, the group is hosting "Elizapalooza" at Saluda Shoals Park, featuring a yard sale, food vendors, cornhole tournament and kids activities with the profits going to the Saving Eliza fund.
Sherry McIntyre met the O’Neill family several months ago through friends. She and her children have contributed to the Saving Eliza fund by making rubber-band fishtail bracelets and selling them for $5 apiece.
"It just really touched my heart,” she said. “I have a that’s close in age to Eliza, and I just cant imagine something like this, this debilitating, and the only thing standing in the way is money. And I would move mountains for my children. It just really hit home.”
The Food Truck Rodeo continues until 6 p.m. Saturday at the corner of Main and Lady streets downtown.
For more information on Eliza’s story and ways to donate, visit www.gofundme.com/ElizaONeill.