PEPPERELL -- You've heard of Locks of Love, the charity to which people, mostly women, volunteer to have their locks cut so the hair can be used to make wigs for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy? Well, as events conducted for raising money for cancer-related issues go, that's easy.
Having your head completely shaved bald raises the idea of sacrifice to a whole different level.
But that's exactly what has been going on in town for the past 11 years, apparently with no lack of volunteers willing to go bald for a good cause. In fact, the number of volunteers has only grown over the years.
"It started when I got an email from firehouse.com," explained Vinnie Messina, who, together with his wife Sandy, has organized the St.
"We hold the event every year to help raise money for childhood cancer research, and all you have to do is have your head shaved," said Messina breezily. "I did it and got other people to get involved and I continue to run it. The first time we did it, we had 11 people get their heads shaved. This year we had 39 people. Over the years, in all, we've had 350 people have their heads shaved (although there are repeat customers). And not all of them are men.
Held on March 20, this year's edition took place on the premises of the Park Street Fire Station.
Messina said since starting the Pepperell event, he has raised over $150,000 for childhood cancer research, with this year's edition racking up just over $15,000.
"St. Baldrick's Fund is based out of California and its events are now held worldwide," said Messina. "We just happen to run a local event here in Pepperell. I think we're one of 12 or so held in Massachusetts this year. "
The St. Baldrick's Fund was begun in 1999 when two businessmen had the idea of shaving their heads to raise money for cancer research. From there, with policemen, firemen and military personnel among the most ardent volunteers, the stunt kept growing, raising $1 million in 2002. By then, things had gone so far that the event became official with the founding of the St. Baldrick's Foundation and the spread of the head-shaving bit all over the country.
By 2012, baldies raised $105.5 million for research distributed by the foundation in the form of grants.
"When volunteers sign up to get their heads shaved, they solicit people to sponsor them, and that's how most of the money is raised," said Messina of where it all begins. "You get a free T-shirt if you raise $50 or more."
But in order to avoid people coming in just to get a free haircut, volunteers must raise or donate a minimum of $25.
"We want to be fair to the barbers who volunteer their time to do the shaving," explained Messina.
Doing the honors this year were barbers from Pepperell's own Patriot Barber Shop and the Yankee Clipper of Littleton.
"This year we had one woman that came in to have her head shaved. She was a cancer survivor and a teenaged girl who first had her long hair cut for Locks of Love before having the rest shaved off," said Messina. "Volunteers this year ranged in age from kids in middle school to adult men and women."
In having their heads shaved, Messina revealed that barbers cut as close to the scalp as their electric razors permit, with the final results usually ending in mere "peach fuzz."
"Most of the volunteers are fine with it," said Messina of how people react when looking in the mirror after their hair is gone. "A couple of women over the years have been very apprehensive when sitting in the chair, but once it's over, they're fine with it. But we have had people change their minds at the last minute."
Sometimes, the shaving itself can be a spectator sport.
"It's a family event and people are encouraged to bring down family and friends and to take pictures," said Messina. "This year, there were probably about 100 people who came and went overall."
Messina said that besides the barbers who donated their time and skill, local businesses also chipped in to make the event a success, with refreshments supplied by Dunkin' Donuts, C&S Pizza, Chef on Wheels and Gibbet Hill Grill.
Other businesses simply made monetary donations, including the Pepperell Family Pharmacy, the Bronze Bell, Peticure, Bailey's Restaurant and Dolce.
"When participants of any type, whether barber or a volunteer, take part in seven events or more, they get put into a special group called the Knights of the Bald Table," said Messina, who's earned the right to be referred to as "Sir Vinnie." "And this year we had 10 people who qualified and received pins for being in that category. It's pretty special. In fact, I received my own a couple years ago."
For information about the St. Baldrick's Foundation, check out stbaldricks.org.