Here’s another secret for giving back on a budget: People need your hair. This method of giving is deeply personal for me, & it might be the most rewarding. However, it limits what you can do with your hair & you need to care for your hair until it reaches a certain length. That’s why I think it’s also the most difficult way to give back on a budget.
But, I’ll come back to the “why” later on.
This type of donation is personal for me because my Mom was diagnosed with cancer when she was 6 months pregnant with me. Chemotherapy took her hair, but gave her 12 more years of life.
I remember how ashamed Mom was whenever anyone outside the family saw her without her wig. Her personality changed the minute she “put on her hair” – she went from withdrawn & avoiding eye contact, to the amazing, strong, intelligent woman I loved so much.
Between my birth in 1984 & her death in 1996, she wore human-hair wigs to hide her hair loss from the world. Each wig cost at least $500, even though it was a short, “pixie” hairstyle. Those were 1990’s prices too – I can’t imagine how much a similar wig would cost now.
Of course, most insurance companies see a hairpiece – human hair or synthetic – as a luxury. That means they don’t have to pay for it. I imagine people suffering how my Mom suffered, the shame & the embarrassment, without means to pay for their own wigs.
That’s where hair donations come in! Two well-known organizations (be very careful – a lot of scammers pose as medical non-profits) collect human hair & money donations. Combining the two, they make human-hair wigs for people who couldn’t otherwise afford them.
I made my 1st hair donation in 2002, right after my high school graduation. Back then, the only charitable organization in the wig-making game was Locks of Love. They focus on making hairpieces for children under 21 years old whose parents can’t buy them.
What Locks of Love does is so important for the children they serve that I can barely find the words. I don’t think any of us escaped childhood without peers teasing us, at least once, for some perceived “difference.” Now, imagine what it would be like as a little girl/boy without hair. The stares, questions, comments, laughter – from adults & kids alike – must be soul-crushing.
Then, early this year, I heard about Pantene’s “Beautiful Lengths” program from – where else? – the back of my conditioner bottle. The company joined forces with several other organizations to give human hair wigs to adult women with cancer – for free:
- HairUWeave® turns ponytails into hairpieces
- Greater Cincinnati Foundation works as a non-profit to collect money donations necessary for making wigs
- American Cancer Society gives out the finished product
To date, Pantene has turned 800,000 ponytails into 42,000 wigs. If my math is right, about 20 people have to commit to donating their hair just to make one wig. (Please feel free to correct my math. Math was never my strong suit – that’s why I studied English!)
So, now we get back to why I decided hair donations are the most difficult way of giving back to others. It’s because of these hair donation guidelines that I encountered:
- Donations must be a minimum of 8-10 inches. If your hair is curly/wavy, you can pull it straight before measuring its length.
- Washed, conditioned, & dried completely before it’s cut & mailed in.
- Collected & sent to the organization in ponytail(s). The stylist used one of my hair ties to make a ponytail, then cut about 1’ above the hair tie.
- Loose/collected hair can’t be used. It must be cut off in a ponytail/braid. If you have a ponytail that you cut off years ago, & it meets the other requirements, some organizations will take it.
- Bleached hair – even just highlights – can’t be donated. Most organizations have to dye several ponytails one uniform color before making them into a wig. Bleached hair reacts badly to these processes & it’s more likely to break than un-bleached hair.
- Damaging treatments, such as teasing & straightening, should be avoided if you plan to donate your hair. Like bleached hair, damaged hair is more likely to break & for organizations to deem it unusable.
- Some organizations accept colored/permed/chemically-treated hair, while others demand “virgin hair” donations. Make sure you check the requirements for whatever organization you choose before you cut your hair.
- Dreadlocks, generally, can’t be donated. Matching them to upwards of 15 other ponytail donations could be too difficult.
- Gray hair needs to be minimal. Some organizations may accept gray hair & sell it – along with hair shorter than the required length – to offset costs.
- Ponytails must be placed in a Zip-lock/plastic sandwich bag, which is then placed into a mailer envelope, & mailed to the organization of your choice’s listed address. You have to pay for postage.
In most cases, you’ll have to cover the cost of the haircut & whatever style you want for your new short hairstyle.
Immediately after my 1st hair donation, I decided I wanted to do it again when my hair was long enough. That means I had to keep my choice to donate in mind for 14 years. True, I could have donated before 2016, but seeing my ponytails made me so proud. It was worth the commitment.
Some ways of giving back to less fortunate people may not cost much – if any – money, but there’s an obvious trade off. Some require your time, effort, supplies, commitment, or answering a bunch of questions followed by needle sticks. Some mean you need to make phone calls, ask questions, look up information online, or make appointments.
The truth is this: it’s worth whatever you’re sacrificing. Whether you give people in need your old clothes, life-giving blood, or the hair from your head, you can find a variety of ways to give to others without breaking the bank.
These are only the low-cost charitable methods I’ve used this year & it’s nowhere near a complete list. I considered adding food pantry/soup kitchen work, but I haven’t had experience with it in the 2016. However, 2017 is full of possibilities for donating.
If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!! If you’ve had any rewarding experiences with donating your time, self, or old stuff, please leave a comment too!! I’d love to hear all about how you’ve been able to help others.