‘Aluminum for ALS’ raises money for Lou Gehrig’s disease


While some see aluminum cans as little more than trash, Harrison Helmick, sophomore in bakery science, sees them as a potential cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Helmick’s philanthropy project for Phi Delta Theta fraternity, called “Aluminum for ALS,” provides blue barrels marked with the “Aluminum for ALS” logo to fraternity houses, who are asked to donate their empty cans. 

The cans are collected every Sunday and recycled. Phi Delta Theta donates proceeds from the cans to the ALS Association. 

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a debilitating condition that leads to the death of roughly 3,000 people per year; the characteristic symptom of the disease is progressive muscle weakness that results in paralysis. According to Nellie Feehan, regional development director of the ALS Association, support is essential. 

“Right now there is no known cure for ALS; someone diagnosed is given only an average of three years to live,” Feehan said. “Many people have heard of ALS but do not know what it is or what it does. Raising awareness and getting people to talk about the issue is big.” 

After seeing the effects of ALS, Helmick challenged himself to come up with a philanthropic event to raise funds for the ALS Association. 

“My fraternity was looking for a new philanthropy project, so when I was elected as the philanthropy chair, I wanted to plan something,” Helmick said. “I had always noticed how wasteful it was to throw away bags full of aluminum cans after parties, both in their collectability and in their environmental impact. My goal is to get as many of these barrels around campus as possible.” 

Aluminum for ALS barrels are currently in place in 12 fraternity houses. Helmick’s goal is to place barrels in every fraternity house by the end of the semester and eventually in sorority houses, residence halls and potentially even at football tailgates. 

“It’s a very simple thing; finish your drink, donate to charity,” Helmick said. “We take care of the cleanup and can provide as many barrels as necessary. Every person can easily get involved.”

Connor Navrude, Interfraternity Council director of community and internal relations and junior in finance, helped get the philanthropy project into the fraternity houses. 

“Harrison approached me about the idea over the summer and I thought it would be a great chance to work together,” Navrude said. “IFC was looking to do a green event, Harrison took care of the physical work and planning and I helped him get it into other houses.”

Navrude said community service is important for college students.

“Having the luxury to go to college and the benefits the community provides, I feel like it’s important to give back,” Navrude said. “So many students are busy and involved with everything, this is a great opportunity to get involved with philanthropy without feeling forced to dedicate a lot of time.”

Feehan shares this sentiment.

“The world is bigger than yourself,” Feehan said. “Every student should give back in some way, [Aluminum for ALS] is a small but great way to do that.”

According to Helmick, more than 400 pounds of aluminum have already been collected. To entice more people to use the barrels, Helmick is offering a $50 reward every month to the chapter with the highest amount of cans. 

Helmick has received assistance along the way, including discounted marketing and logo design from Billy Pilgrim, donated barrels from Avatar Corporation, free printing from Staples and support from Phi Delta Theta. 

“Without the support I’ve received, the project would still only be an idea,” Helmick said. “They made it a reality.”

Although Helmick is pleased with the reception of the project, he challenges every fraternity to get on board. 

“Some houses have really jumped in, while others have been more reluctant,” Helmick said. “I want everybody to get involved and do their part.”