PEPPERELL -- Nathan Peloquin, of Townsend, lost his best friend to leukemia four years ago. Every year, he lets his hair grow long so that he can have his head shaved in honor of his friend.
"It's awesome to have all these people come together in one place. The shaving sends a message to everyone that we really do support children with cancer and we really are trying to help," Peloquin said.
More than 50 people joined Peloquin in having their heads shaved Wednesday night at Pepperell's annual St. Baldrick's Foundation fundraiser. The organization raises money to find a cure for childhood cancer, and encourages people to show solidarity with those suffering from the disease by shearing their locks.
Organizer Vinnie Messina said locals have embraced the event for the past 12 years due to the cause.
"It's sad to see anybody suffer, but especially children. For a couple weeks' work, the end result makes it all worthwhile with all the money we've raised over the years," Messina said.
As of March 25, the event had raised $27,850, surpassing its $20,000 goal.
Since its first year in Pepperell in 2003, the fundraiser has donated more than $165,000 for childhood-cancer research.
Those who had their heads shaved ranged widely in age and reason for coming, but for many, the cause had personal importance.
Mike Slavin, of Durham, N.H., accompanied his 13-year-old daughter, Danielle, who had her head shaved in honor of her late sister, Marina.
Marina, who died of a sudden virus in December, had her head shaved for St. Baldrick's a year ago. As her father said, she loved to help people.
"This is one of the many ways that we're trying to heal as a family," Slavin said, as Danielle's long locks fell to the floor.
The shaving was done by local barbers who volunteered their time, including Maryann Wilkins, of Salon Bliss in Pepperell.
She said that as a first-time participant, she was impressed by the dedication of those willing to lose their locks for the cause.
"It's amazing, the generosity and willingness for people to come out for such an incredible cause. It's very selfless," Wilkins said.
Messina said the event wouldn't be possible without the support of the community, including the barbers and the local businesses that donated gift cards and gift baskets to be raffled off for the charity.
"It's not just me, it's all the volunteers -- the people who get their heads shaved, the barbers who take their time -- it's not just a one- or two-person effort, it's a whole group," Messina said.
The 54 people who were shaved Wednesday made up one of the largest groups in the event's history, Messina said.
For Pepperell resident Roger DiDonato, having his head shaved for St. Baldrick's has become a tradition now in its sixth year. His reason for coming back year after year is simple.
"I don't think you can do enough of these things," DiDonato said. "People complain about a hangnail or a cut on their finger. You take a look at some of these kids, and it's too bad we can't do a little more for them. As long as I'm up above ground, I'll be coming here."
Donations can be made at any time by going to stbaldricks.org and searching for Pepperell.