PEPPERELL — Last week 51 local supporters let their head down, so to speak, in an effort to raise funding for children’s cancer research.
“It was a last-minute decision,” said 11-year-old Jackson Rea, a returning shavee. “This is my fifth year so I figure why don’t we keep the streak going for as long as possible. Helping kids is amazing and I want to help as much as I can.”
The head-shaving event is held annually at the Park Street Fire Station to raise money for childhood cancer research and awareness. Initiated eight years ago by Vinnie and Sandy Messina, residents of Pepperell, the St. Baldrick’s fundraising event has raised more than $122,000 and with nearly 300 heads shaved for the cause.
“I look forward to it every year,” said Joe Lisio, owner of Patriot Barber Shop. “You know, it’s for a great cause and I like to do anything I can to contribute.”
This was Lisio’s fifth year volunteering in the event. He and four other local barbers donated their time last week along with 19 other volunteers who had helped out in various areas.
“I’m the janitor tonight,” said Phil Durno, as he smiled and swept the hair out from underneath the barbers’ chairs. “I love what they’re doing and I know what it means to the children who have cancer.”
With the help of many local businesses, event volunteers, shavees, and all other supporters, this year’s effort has successfully raised $22,497. Of that amount, $5,600 was collected at the actual event through donations, raffles and a silent auction.
“It was a good turnout and the volunteers were great. I think it went very well,” said Vinnie.
It was certainly a packed house with hundreds of people filling the station’s garage. Among the crowd was 7-year-old Dillan Webb, who had just days before the event found out she had beaten the disease.
“I’m excited to feel good,” said Webb, who was diagnosed in October. “The worst part was probably getting chemo; it made me a little sick.”
The young survivor said that she loves playing soccer and that she is excited to start up again. Webb is from Merrimack, N.H., and was told about the event by a family friend, Scott Hyder, who is part of a Westford team that raises money collectively each year.
Some of those among the many faces were friends and family members who were there for moral support. Abbey Martino Devens from Groton proudly watched as two of her girlfriends made the daring move.
She said “I’m here to support my friends Tara and Beth. I think it’s wonderful that they’re doing that; they both have long, beautiful hair and I think they are very brave people to do that. I think it’s for a really good cause.”
Lisio recalled a more fond memory through the years. He said “last year there was girl, I think about 12 years old with nice hair, and she stepped up and decided to get her head shaved for the cause. It was pretty neat to see a girl at that age be so strong to sacrifice her hair for a great cause.”
According to a press release from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among children in the U.S, with 16,000 children diagnosed every year.
The foundation is a national nonprofit that holds fundraisers all throughout the country. It is the world’s largest volunteer-driven fundraiser benefiting childhood cancer research.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing to do to raise awareness and to support community fundraising for the kids who have cancer,” said Ashley Moore, who was also there in support of a friend. “I think they are very courageous.”