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Spotlight Health
02/21/2002 - Updated 06:41 PM ET

Women of Hollywood have love affair with giving

By Mike Falcon, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

Hollywood's divas can make the heart swoon, but when 22 of them design custom pendants to raise money for their favorite charities it's really an affair of the heart.

"There are so many who need so much, and so many organizations that demonstrate huge heart continually," says Academy Award-winner Marcia Gay Harden. "I liked that we were all able to participate and join all these groups together through the design process and the event."

Sponsored by Platinum Guild International, the Women with Heart auction featured heart pendants designed by such Hollywood leading ladies as Gwyneth Paltrow, Britney Spears, Catherine Zeta Jones, Renee Zellweger, Jewel, and Faith Hill.

While most of the pendants were available for online bidding, some were reserved only for the on-site auction held last week at Sotheby's in Beverly Hills. The solid gold guest list included some of Tinsel Town's brightest gems, including Sex and the City's Kristin Davis, Tara Reid of Josie and the Pussycats, American Beauty's Thora Birch, and TV producer Aaron Spelling and his wife Candy.

While the spirited bidding was entertaining for both celebrity designers and the overflow crowd, many designs carried special symbolic significance. And underscored that behind each of these hearts is a well-defined and significant need.

Zeta Jones' creation for the homeless children's charity Planet Hope garnered the highest bid of the night. Her small heart on a thin link chain —- similar to the slender thread of hope homeless children and their families often cling to —- raised $21,000 for the organization founded by actress Sharon Stone and her sister Kelly.

Candy Spelling designed a platinum heart within a heart to benefit the John Wayne Cancer Center where husband Aaron was treated. "The design is because my heart is always entwined with his, and has been, through everything. My charity is very special to me because it cured my husband —- he is now cancer-free so I had a lot of great reasons to get involved."

Although Spelling is feeling fine, the need for a cancer cure has never been greater. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), over 550,000 died from cancer last year.

Joining the ACS as beneficiaries of the evening's largess were a variety of medical, environmental, and humanitarian organizations.

Big hearts, big needs

Despite a severe cold, Tara Reid flew in from New York to help promote more interest in the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). "I thought it was really important to be here tonight. AIDS research is critical if we're ever going to find a cure and I feel that if I can help in any way that's what I want to do."

Between 800-900,000 Americans are living with AIDS with another 40,000 infected last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kristin Davis designed "a heart that I wanted to be bold and to show how our hearts grew after September 11." Her charity is the New York Police and Fire Widow and Children's Benefit Fund.

"I thought about how connected these police and firemen are and I wanted my design to be like that," says Davis. "One of the important things is to not forget about families who died September 11."

Health problems, particularly respiratory ailments, linked to the 9/11 terrorism continue to plague those firemen and police who participated in the rescue efforts.

Drew Barrymore's simple flat platinum heart benefited Green Chimneys, a home to 102 children ages 6-21. Most have been hospitalized, often for chronic depression or suicidal behavior.

But so many more still need help.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five children have a diagnosable mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder. And while suicide is the third leading cause of death for people 15-24, only about 30% of children receive mental health services.

Kirsten Dunst's triple heart necklace supported the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Although Dunst was unable to attend, Julie Benz — who plays the vampire Darla on TV show Angel — admirably sank her teeth into the cause.

"There's a way to solve this disease and it's more knowledge, more research, and people volunteering to help and get involved in whatever way they can." Millions of children are infected with the HIV globally and their numbers continue to explode.

Water worries

Jewel's design benefited the ClearWater Project that promotes access to safe drinking water. Water contaminated from a number of sources directly affects cancer deaths. The National Academy of Sciences says that the radon in water alone causes 168 stomach cancer deaths a year. And pesticide and fertilizer runoff, as well as lead contamination, continue to compromise drinking water safety in large areas of the USA.

Harden, who starred in Pollock last year, designated Riverkeeper as her charity beneficiary. Riverkeeper is an independent environmental organization dedicated to preserving the Hudson River and other waterways.

"The contamination of waterways and drinking water is really frightening," says Harden. "So anything I can do to draw attention to Riverkeeper and help Women with Heart build awareness for all these other wonderful causes is good all-around. Ultimately, what's good for the community is good for the individual."

And when it's Hollywood's Women with Heart, it's definitely a wide community with a lot of good.

The event was so successful that Platinum Guild president Laurie Hudson has already said she would like to stage the event again next year.

But perhaps with a new twist.

"I wonder what it would be like if men designed the hearts?" wonders Harden.