PEPPERELL — Mid-March may sound like an odd time to try out a shave haircut, but Pepperell-based firefighter Vinnie Messina is asking people to take the plunge this St. Patrick’s Day to help fight children’s cancer.
The shaves are to benefit the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which encourages people to go temporarily bald as a show of solidarity with cancer survivors — and collect pledges for that gesture from friends and family.
Having worked alongside his wife to bring this event to Pepperell each of the past seven years, Messina said the “shave” is actually done by electric clippers, adding all 62 participants last year kept a little bit “peach fuzz.”
Overall, he described the annual St. Baldrick’s event at the Park Street Fire Station as a fun and feel-good occasion, even if he’s alright with the idea of it being phased-out.
“The money raised goes toward funding fellowships for doctors to do research,” he said. “I ‘m hoping at some point in time we can find a cure and we won’t need to do it.”
Founded in 1999, the St. Baldrick’s’ Foundation claims to be the world’s largest volunteer driven fundraising event for childhood cancer research, raising $69 million since 2000. Some 160,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. St. Baldrick’s provides research grants, fellowships and other means toward finding a cure.
The Messinas are volunteer organizers for the foundation, and have arranged 188 shaves since 2002, raising over $74,000.
A computer programmer by day and call firefighter in his free time, Vinnie Messina initially heard about the foundation through a firefighting Web site. In the beginning the Messinas relied heavily on word-of-mouth to promote the event, first reaching within the Pepperell Fire Department and then first responders across the region. He said it’s grown from there and that donors take many routes to meet the $25 minimum pledge.
“We’ve had people who walk in the off the street, who want to participate and write a check for $25, to people who put in a lot of effort to raise a lot of money,” he said.
A prime example of the latter route is Hudson-based police officer Shelley Megowen, who raised $3,823 for the event last year.
In general, Messina said the $25 minimum is set in fairness to the barbers of Patriot Barber Shop, who donate their time for the event. Participants raising over $50 will also get a St. Baldrick’s T-shirt.
The goal for this year’s event is to raise $25,000. To date, 23 people have stepped forward for the haircuts, raising $2,695 of pledges. Messina said registration is still open, saying people could visit the St. Baldrick’s Web site or call 1-888-899-BALD to get signed up.
In addition to the haircuts, he expected some light refreshments would be donated by local businesses, adding there’ll be a raffle as well. Among the prizes is an autographed picture of Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, but Messina said he’s still seeking donations to help with the event and can be contacted at 978-621-3030 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The St. Baldrick’s event will be held at the Park Street Fire Station at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 17.