My granddaughter, Jordan Fideler, 12, suddenly decided she wanted to donate her hair to Locks of Love.
When her mother first suggested the idea a month ago, Jordan was unwilling to part with her waist-length blond hair. Although she felt sorry for financially disadvantaged children who lost their hair due to illness, she had trouble relating.
A bald child no more existed in Jordan's universe than scenes of tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo. on television.
Then, last week, she changed her mind. Why?
"I just decided I want to do it," she said in that way children have of cementing their own logic via an authoritative tone of voice.
So off we went to the neighborhood to do the deed.
Although we knew donated hair had to be at least 10 inches long, we didn't know certain other things, such as that salons that participate in Locks of Love often offer discounted or free haircuts.
Stylist Lilia Pulido, a fixture at the Aviation Boulevard salon for the past 20 years, was familiar with the cutting procedure, and whipped out a ruler. She measured the prerequisite 10 inches and suggested 11 or 12 inches, since Jordan would still be assured hair almost to her shoulders.
After wetting my granddaughter's hair, Pulido put it in a ponytail, which she secured with two stretch bands situated about an inch apart.
Placing the scissors midway between the two bands, the stylist explained that the ponytail, once snipped from Jordan's head, would be secured at the top and ready to mail.
One little wrinkle-nose wince from the victim accompanied the lopping off, and it was done.
Afterward, Pulido trimmed Jordan's remaining hair as she had requested, the final result bringing a beaming smile to my granddaughter's face.
"I love it!" Jordan exclaimed to my relief and the stylist's delight. Pulido handed her the excised ponytail, and Jordan displayed it for all to see.
I thought everyone in the place was going to applaud.
Then began our class in Locks of Love 1-A.
Seems the client sends the hair to the company, not the salon. Thus, Jordan was presented with a plastic bag and left the shop, happily swinging the bag of hair at her side like a purse.
Once home, GB (that would be Grandma Blossom) began the research I should have done in the first place. (It's happened before.)
I went to the website and found a good many do's and don'ts suggested by the non-profit company. Preferable length is 12 inches, for example, and hair must be free of bleach, although "colored (dyed) hair" is acceptable.
Now, my granddaughter's hair is neither bleached nor dyed, but I, the relentless investigative reporter, was curious as to coloring products containing peroxide.
Lauren Kukkamaa, communications director at Locks of Love, headquarters in West Palm Beach, Fla., helped me out.
"Any hair that contains bleach will dissolve due to a chemical reaction during the manufacturing process," Kukkamaa said. "The color should not contain any bleach. Usually this is referring to any lightening agents."
Gray hair may be donated, she said, but only for resale to offset manufacturing costs. (And who ever heard of a gray-haired child, anyway?) Dreadlocks, wigs, falls, hair extensions and synthetic hair are other no-no's.
Permed hair is fine, as is layered hair, so long as it measures at least 10 inches at the longest point.
A single prosthetic hair piece requires six to 10 ponytails, the rep said, and each strand of hair is hand injected into a silicone base up to 150,000 times, a procedure that causes the prostheses to normally retail for from $3,500 to $6,000.
But at Locks of Love, children ages 6 to 21 who are suffering from long-term medical hair loss from "any diagnosis" receive hair prostheses free of charge or on a sliding scale based on financial need, Kukkamaa said.
According to the website, Locks of Love—which began as for-profit enterprise connected with a wig retailer—went non-profit in 1997. The initiative was spearheaded by a retired cardiac nurse, Madonna Coffman, who had endured her daughter's hair loss, as well as her own.
Coffman, who developed alopecia following a hepatitis vaccination, eventually recovered—only to have her 4-year-old daughter come down the same condition 15 years later.
As difficult as it was to deal with her own hair loss, coping with her little girl's baldness was ten times harder for the nurse who was to put all her efforts into the foundation.
One interesting aspect of Locks of Love is that most people assume that hair loss from cancer is the major reason youngsters, especially girls, request prosthetic hair.
In reality, according to Kukkamaa, alopecia—an auto-immune disorder that causes the hair follicles to shut down—is the primary cause of hair loss, affecting some 4.7 million in the U.S. alone.
Cancer constitutes the second highest percentage of hairpiece or prosthesis recipients, she said, with approximately 2,200 children under age 20 diagnosed with brain tumors each year. Whereas chemotherapy may cause long-term hair loss, depending on the length of treatment, radiation can cause permanent hair loss.
Since chemotherapy in normal instances does not result in permanent hair loss, Locks of Love can supply synthetic hair pieces or wigs.
The prostheses are different from synthetic hairpieces because they form a vacuum seal around the head, the representative said, and do not require the use of tape or glue, which might inflame the scalp of an ill person. Children can reapply for a new prosthesis every 18 months
My granddaughter related most to how young girls might suffer in school or during sports if they were thought to be wearing wigs or false hairpieces, much less if they were bald.
"They might get bullied," said Jordan, who had engaged in several conversations on the subject at home and in class.
Looking at photos of girls and boys who had received prostheses from Locks of Love on the non-profit's website, Jordan saw that the hair looked genuine, the faces of those who had benefited from the hair as radiant as hers had been after her haircut.
"Do I get to see who gets my ponytail?" Jordan asked.
"No," I said. "You have to remember that from six to 10 girls donate ponytails for just one hairpiece."
She seemed disappointed, but agreed that "lots of love" goes into Locks of Love.
Once cut, a clean, dry ponytail, secured at the top with a rubber band, should be put in plastic zip-lock bag and placed in a padded envelope, along with the form, and mailed with correct postage to:
Locks of Love
234 Southern Blvd.
West Palm Beach, FL 33405
An acknowledgement of a donation is mailed or emailed to the donor. Email is the fastest method of communication
Financial contributions are espcially welcome, also tax deductible; ponytails do not necessarily qualify as deductions unless deemed so by a tax preparer.
Salons desiring to participate in support of Locks of Love by offering free or discounted haircuts may obtain decals from the non-profit website.
For more information, email email@example.com or call 561-833-7332.