The deep emotional impact that occurs with hair loss from medical issues and/or treatments can be profound. Hair donations from sweet, giving people help organizations build wigs and hair systems to lessen some of the emotional devastation and effects.
Every once in a while, I'll see a post on social media about someone in my network cutting off a LOT of their own hair to donate. Occasionally, it will be the child of someone I know.
A year or two ago, I vividly recall seeing a set of pictures of my friend, Tricia, with her daughter, Lily, at a hair salon. They are such strong images for me because I remember that the pictures beautifully captured mother and daughter giving TOGETHER. What an incredible gesture of giving! Aren't they adorable?
Tricia (and her husband Matt) and I all went to college together. They are a super sweet couple and have a beautiful family with 3 gorgeous kiddos -- Lily, 6, Noah, 3, and Caroline, 7 months. I knew that I HAD to get the story behind this beautiful act of giving that made such an impact on me. And I am so happy that I did.
Tricia and her family are a beautiful example of how you can incorporate giving into your individual and family life! I am so grateful Tricia took the time to chat with me for today's post (despite her fever, strep throat, 3 children, 2 cats and 1 dog)!
Tell me about the experience of donating your hair with Lily.
Last winter, I had the wonderful experience of donating with my then 4 year old daughter. I started talking about growing my hair out "to give to kids who don't have hair" the previous summer, and offered for her to do it with me. I maintained the whole time that if she didn't feel like she wanted to do it she could always change her mind.
Right before Christmas, when we were really in the giving spirit, we went to the salon and each had 10 inches of hair chopped off! It was fun to get our hair cut together, so knowing it was for a good cause was icing on the cake. We sent our donations to Locks of Love, but there are many wonderful organizations who accept hair donations.
Afterwards, many people commented on Lily's hair cut, and she beamed with pride when she told them she "gave her hair to kids who don't have hair!." I think making it a fun experience helped nurture her spirit of giving, and I hope that we can donate together again in a couple years!
What are your earliest memories of giving?
My earliest memories of giving are probably from Brownies (Girl Scouts), running bake sales and collecting canned goods. Influenced significantly by my family's commitment to community service, my first conscious memory of giving was becoming a hospital volunteer the summer before high school. I enjoyed that summer position so much that I went on to volunteer Saturday overnights at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center (PS-After that experience my kids are never allowed to ride lawn mowers or jet ski's!).
Additionally, for a several summers I volunteered as a camp counselor at the Bennett Institute, a super fun summer camp for physically challenged kids. This was an extraordinarily eye-opening experience, because they had the volunteer counselors spend the day in wheelchairs right along side our kids. It was incredibly hard work, both physically and mentally, and I had the blisters to prove it! Since then, I have volunteered whenever I get the chance.
My sorority in college organized several events to contribute to the local community, and I have continued to participate in alumna philanthropy events with the Baltimore chapter-most notably, making meals at the Ronald McDonald House for families of patients being treated for long-term illnesses at Johns Hopkins.
Last summer I volunteered at a reading and literacy camp for underprivileged kids in Baltimore. I expected to use tools I had gleaned from my teacher friends to encourage and develop higher literacy, but in reality, what those kids really needed was to sit in someone's lap and have book after book read to them.
A few times, Matt and I have provided Christmas gifts for children in crisis, and now the kids can participate in picking an ornament off of one of the many local "angel trees" and shopping for special gifts for an unknown friend. This past Christmas, my relatives donated what money they would have spent on gifts for me to sponsor an entire family on the verge of homelessness in Baltimore. They had six kids, including a baby Caroline's age, so it was very special to provide them with a full stash under the tree, where there otherwise would have been nothing.
Who/what played a role in your spirit of giving and how?
My parents are definitely the foundation of my spirit of giving. My mother was a social worker in Baltimore City for many years, and then worked for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, and currently serves as a housing counselor with the Southeast Community Development Center, advising potential homeowners on how to avoid predatory loans and helping current homeowners at risk of foreclosure, among other things. My father served with the Peace Corps in Ghana, Africa for two years, and then after getting his graduate degree, worked in environmental science until retirement. And by "retirement" I actually mean "helping me all the time with my kids and my yard".
Growing up, I always remember them donating to various non profit organizations, taking in stray animals (hello four cats and a dog and even a snake), and volunteering their time in any way that they were able. And let's not forget the ultimate way my parents gave-adopting myself and my brother from Korea, an expensive and time consuming and often heartbreaking process that can only be endured by the most extraordinary hearts.
Tell me about what giving looks like for you.
A relatively unique way to give is to give not money, time, or possessions, but to give your body (stick with me here, it's not what you think). I have been a long time blood donor, and through donating blood I've been able to get on the national bone marrow registry. I donated my hair for the first time in college, and have since donated again several times. Finally, and most recently, I have become a breast milk donor.
After I had Lily I definitely had an overabundance of milk, but I wasn't familiar with pumping and storing and I had certainly never heard of donating breast milk before, so the extra milk I did manage to freeze just sat until I threw it away (frown face). When I was pregnant with Noah, I was determined not to waste the extra milk, and started looking into donating to local NICU's. While donating directly to the NICU was unfeasible, through my searches I found an organization that gives $1 to Make-A-Wish Foundation for every ounce of milk sent to their milk bank.
While in the process of qualifying as a donor, I received a Facebook message from a friend of a friend who had just adopted a sweet baby girl. Unfortunately, she was born addicted to drugs, and her painful withdrawal symptoms were exacerbated by formula. Her adoptive mother was trying without success to induce her own lactation, so she reached out after a friend mentioned I might have extra milk. I ended up sending a few hundred ounces to the milk bank I had already applied to, but I was able to give over 1000 ounces to sweet baby E over the course of a year. Through the support and incredible generosity of many milk donors and the tireless work of her mother, she never drank formula again! (This is not a breastmilk vs. formula debate, just a shout out to those mommies who would do anything for another baby because "There's No Such Thing As Other People's Children" -Momastery).
Now that I'm in a routine with pumping a freezing (and we have a huge deep freezer too), I have quite a stash built up, and am currently in the process to donate again to Milk For Wishes. I have given single amounts here and there to several local babies, but I haven't found another long term recipient yet. For the record, it is a dangerous practice to sell or purchase human milk, so for the babies who need it, donations are the only source of their liquid gold.
What do you enjoy most about giving?
I have to admit, what I enjoy most about giving is totally selfish. When I stop to think about how much I have, how much I've been given, and how much I have available to me, it's absolutely mind boggling how fortunate I am. Seriously. Like if I want almost anything I can just get on my laptop or phone (because I have THAT choice) and order it PrimeNow and it's delivered to the door of my safe, climate controlled house where I'm feeding my three children from a fridge full of fresh food with safe running water and electricity. For so many people, near and far, that scenario that I take for granted every day is completely unfathomable. So, in order to keep myself from imploding with the weight of so much privilege, I find ways to give to those less fortunate. Poor me, right? (eye roll) Also, now that I have kids, I want to show them that it's possible to make the world a better place a little bit at a time, whether it's helping a friend, or giving a gift, or being kind to a stranger.
What are the challenges you have faced with giving (at present or in the past)?
I can't think of any ways giving has been actually challenging, but I will tell a funny story from this past Christmas:
So right after Thanksgiving I let my mom and grandmother and aunt know that instead of gifts this year, I would prefer to adopt a local family who needed help with providing Christmas. Coming from a family of givers, they were instantly on board, and I crossed that task off my list and continued with my crazy Christmas season.
A few days before Christmas my mom forwarded me an email saying a social worker friend of hers had found a family with six kids who were at risk of being evicted.
"Great!" I said, and closed the email.
The next day (the day before the gifts were to be delivered to the family) I got a call from my mom.
"Do you have the gifts ready yet?"
"For the family I sent you, do you have the gifts ready?"
"I thought you and Aunt Cindy were doing that."
"I thought you wanted to do it!"
So, with less than 24 hours before they needed to be delivered, I bought and wrapped almost every gift on their wish list. It was a late night for sure, but obviously worth it.
My mom picked up all the gifts on her way to work the next morning, and according to the note I later received from their social worker, the family had a wonderful Christmas.
Also, for Lily's birthday this year, we talked about having a jewelry making party with a few of her friends, to make bracelets that they could then either take home or send to Craft Hope's most recent project with Partners With Ethiopia to provide bracelets to each child visited by the organization's volunteers as a token of friendship and kindness.
In the end, *I* ended up making most of the bracelets, but the girls had fun and it was a great way to open up a discussion about how some kids didn't have as many toys or books or games or bracelets as they did, and wouldn't it be nice to make some bracelets to send to friends who didn't have any bracelets? I am new to the Craft Hope site, but I hope to participate in many more projects in the future!
I neglected to take any pictures (I was too busy making bracelets) but these are the kind of fabric bracelets we made.
What is one piece of advice/wisdom you would like to share about giving?
Giving is not all or nothing. The little things you do definitely add up, and if you feel like you're overextending yourself by forcing something, you'll be less likely to give in the future. Don't have money to donate? Give your time. Don't have that either (hello all you moms out there)? Give by bringing dinner to a friend who had a new baby, or cut some daffodils for your mail carrier, or bring the trash cans back up the driveway for your elderly neighbor. Giving is really just being kind to others without expecting anything in return.
What nonprofit organizations are meaningful to you?
- Bennett Institute
- Locks of Love
- Donate Life America
- Milk for Wishes Milk Bank
- Human Milk 4 Human Babies
- Craft Hope
- Ronald McDonald House Charities of Baltimore
Thank you, Tricia, for your giving spirit and for sharing that with your family! Your story is a beautiful illustration of how we sometimes fall into giving because of what is relevant in our lives at that moment, sometimes we actively choose giving that is meaningful to us, and sometimes giving doesn't look the way we envisioned it and we end up tirelessly making bracelets on behalf of our daughter. But all of it is important. And all of it makes a difference. <3