Hair donations

Recently, Ann Mulvany chopped off a 12-inch ponytail to donate t (Fred Squillante/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)o a nonprofit that makes wigs. She packaged up two of her ponytails at her home on Saturday, April 3, 2021, to send to the nonprofit.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – When Ohio salons were forced shut for two months in March 2020 and much of the state went into lockdown, Jennifer Rauch thought it would fun to see just how long her hair could grow.

A year later, she had a 10-inch ponytail.

When it came time to get it chopped off three weeks ago, the 35-year-old Clintonville resident decided she could use it to do some good for others by donating it to Locks of Love, a Florida-based nonprofit that collects hair to be made into wigs for children suffering from hair loss.

The pandemic made the process of hair-growing — and donating — easier, she said.

“Maybe I would’ve gotten it cut sooner,” she said. “It’s a really easy thing to do to help someone and takes no effort on my part. If I don’t like it, it should grow back.”

So far she’s OK with her shorter, now curlier, locks, especially given what they symbolize to her.

“It think it’s refreshing going into spring and where we’re at as a country with COVID,” Rauch said. “Things are looking positive and going in the right direction.”

Rauch isn’t the only person trading in longer COVID-19 hairdos for shorter styles. As a result, organizations such as Wigs for Kids and Children with Hair Loss have seen an uptick in donations in recent months, including from Rauch’s mother, Janet.

The ponytails rolling in are certainly a welcome sight after the dips in donations of 2020, said Jeffrey Paul, co-founder of Wigs for Kids in Westlake, Ohio, near Cleveland.

“All donations coming in slowed to a drip of a faucet,” said Paul, adding that the organization distributed 500 wigs in 2020 compared with 600 in 2019.

Not only were salons closed for weeks across the country, but people remained leery of visiting them for months after they reopened, he said. Many salons still are operating at only about 70%, he added.

It didn't help that many people delayed haircuts because they were working or going to school from home and not attending as many social functions, and so they felt they didn't need them, said Regina Villemure, founder of Children with Hair Loss near Detroit.

“People were not worrying about their hair — let it grow a little longer,” said Villemure, whose group saw hair donations drop 40% at the height of the pandemic.

Each organization has a different length requirement, but generally people must give between eight and 12 inches of hair to qualify for donation.

Of course, the longer the better — and that’s where the pandemic might actually help these organizations as they try to make up for a slow 2020. Not only do more people have the length to donate due to delayed salon visits, but the hair they are donating is much higher quality in some cases.

“The hair isn’t colored,” Paul said. “It’s not chemically treated or hasn’t experienced heat damage. The ponytails are brilliant, bright and healthier.”

It helps, he added, that all the fashion magazines show short, jaw-length styles as the trend for this spring and summer, perhaps persuading people to go even a bit shorter after their long break from the salon.

Villemure said the organization already has fitted 165 kids with wigs since the beginning of 2021, putting it on pace for a record year. Wigs for Kids has seen similar spikes.

“February was our 'cheer month' when we saw the UPS guy bringing in multiple boxes of ponytails,” Paul said.

If what Cristal Galloso is seeing at her Whitehall business, Azul Violeta Salon, is any indication, hair-donation nonprofits can continue to expect quite a rebound

Before the pandemic hit, Galloso said the salon saw about three or four donations a week. Now, it’s closer to a half dozen, and it was as many as10 late last year.

“They want to get rid of the old stuff from last year and start the year off good,” said Galloso, whose business is an ambassador, or preferred, salon for Wigs for Kids.

Many clients let their hair grow out because of the pandemic, Galloso said, and the whole experience of 2020 had them more willing to experiment with their hair now, including pixie-style cuts or short bobs.

“You only live once and your hair grows out,” she said. “They think, ‘Let’s try something new.’”

Although Audrina Rios didn’t go as drastically short as some, the 12 inches she had Galloso chop off in December was the most she’d ever had cut at one time. It was just getting to long to manage, the 10-year-old from Groveport said.

“I wanted to cut my hair because when I washed it at the bottom, I couldn’t reach it,” Audrina said.

Her mother, Lilia Rios, initially resisted the urge to have her daughter’s hair cut so significantly – she’d only ever had it trimmed – but knowing the hair would go to a good cause eased the hesitation.

“Knowing it would be donated to a child who needs it made it easier,” she said.

Ann Mulvany, 32, cut 12 inches from her long tresses to help others, and figured that it would help her running, too, by making her ponytail lighter.

“It falls in the general donation category for me,” said Mulvany, who got the new do a few weeks ago. “If I have something someone can use and I don’t need it anymore, it’s good to donate.”

Paul said that while the pandemic certainly created an opportunity for people to grow their hair longer for a number of reasons, he said it’s also made people more aware of those in need and more generous in the ways they’re willing to help.

“With the pandemic, I think the level of appreciation has increased – what everyone has gone through,” Paul said. “People seem to have more giving hearts, and this is a direct campaign where they can make an impact.”

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