A little snip goes a long way to help othersPhotos by Frank Pinc / Chicago Parent Alejandra, 5, after her haircut and her donation to Locks of Love.
Brooke Gastile's gift was 10 inches long, straight, brown and wrapped in a rubberband. The gift came from a 4-year-old girl who, after seeing a television show about kids who lost their hair, wanted to donate her own locks. When the girls met on a television show last year, Gastile, 10, was given a pair of scissors, and she cut her gift giver's hair.
Gastile sent the ponytail to Locks of Love, a nonprofit Florida-based organization based. Locks of Love used the hair to fashion a wig for Gastile, as it does for other children 18 and under who have permanently lost their hair.
Kids make up 80 percent of the donors or 1,600 of the 2,000 ponytails Locks receives on average each week, says Susan Stone, executive director.
"I think it's easier for kids to grow their hair," Stone says. "They can't always organize a big fundraiser or write a big check, and something they can do is grow their hair."
Kids know being different means getting teased, Stone says. They rally support—and lots of hair—to help their peers through hair drives at school.
"Just knowing [my hair] would go to kids makes it more related to me," says Allison Lale, 18, of Wilmette.
Locks of Love attracts the majority of hair donors through word of mouth. Lale got the idea from a friend who donated.
Most of the children, including Gastile, permanently lose their hair from an auto-immune condition, alopecia areata, for which there is no known cause or cure. Other children have endured brain stem radiation, serious burns and other dermatological conditions.
Wigmakers use 10 to 15 ponytails to make each custom-fit wig. Kids choose the hair color and length so that the hairpiece looks natural. Social workers, nurses, grandparents, parents and friends nominate kids to become recipients.
Custom-made hairpieces normally start at $3,000. Locks of Love provides them free or on a sliding scale for children whose families meet income guidelines.
For donations, send hair in a plastic bag and sealed envelope to: Locks of Love 2925 10th Ave. North, Suite 102, Lake Worth, FL 33461. For information, visit www.locksoflove.org or call toll free (888) 896-1588.
-- Jessica Herman