WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — In honor of Alopecia Awareness Month in September, a local restaurant spent the month raising money to help people battling the disease.
Gricelda Mata, the owner of Lindo Mexico Restaurant, also has a birthday in September. Each year she celebrates by trying to do something for someone else.
“I’ve always said that my business is a tool to help others,” Mata said.
It was her good friend of 20 years, Yeli Romero, who mentioned Alopecia Awareness Month. Romero deals with the disease herself, so offering the restaurant’s help was a no-brainer for Mata.
Lindo Mexico hosted Noches Azules or Blue Nights every Thursday, where a portion of sales from the blue margarita went towards a fund to purchase wigs for people with alopecia who cannot afford to buy one.
Mata also had one of her employees paint a woman’s face on a canvas, and customers could donate money to add strands of hair to the woman’s head.
“As someone that has hair, it’s hard to sometimes comprehend the whole extent, but when you talk to someone and they share their story, you start to understand things that you didn’t know. And talking to Yeli, she educated me on things that I didn’t even know,” said Mata.
Romero was diagnosed with alopecia when she was 19 and hid her condition for 20 years.
“When I purchased my first wig, I remember it was very expensive. It was not the one that looked like my hair. I didn’t receive any support,” Romero explained.
She finally came forward with her story in 2021. As a Zumba instructor and business owner, she is well known in the community.
“Since then, people have reached out to me. I’ve been creating this community that I want to support. The idea was just to create awareness and support people who cannot afford to purchase a wig and to create awareness about the respect that we deserve,” said Romero.
She has heard stories of young children taking their own lives because they are bullied for having alopecia.
“That’s one of the things that I would like to tell parents; to educate their kids, to respect others, because they don’t know what the other person is going through.”
Fern Clark, 15, was diagnosed with alopecia when she was 10. She recently switched schools because of the way she was being treated.
“I would say more for the hardest part about being with other kids is when they talk and complain all the time about their hair and they’re just, just the lack of empathy has been the hardest part in school,” Clark said.
She added that more often than not, people don’t ask her why she’s bald. Instead, they make assumptions and occasionally harsh comments.
Christy Murphy, who also has alopecia, said the emotional toll is the biggest challenge.
“Just dealing with self-esteem, self-worth, just to not fitting in,” she said. “A lot of times people assume I have cancer and then I feel bad that I tell them I don’t because they want to tell their story of what they went through.”
More than anything, all three of the ladies say they want to be respected. However, they feel that for that to happen, there needs to be more understanding about alopecia. Murphy said she’s grateful for Lindo Mexico’s efforts.
“It’s so great to have the owner of Lindo Mexico help so much with financial support and support others of us in the alopecia community just bring awareness and help others.”
In recognition of Alopecia Areata Awareness Month, several landmarks across the U.S. were lit up to raise awareness as well, including Grand Rapids’ Blue Bridge.