By LAURA PILATI
The following was written in response to “UMW Gives Lots of ‘Locks’“ (Feb. 26, 2009, The Bullet):
About five months ago, I had every intention of donating my mid-back blonde hair to the non-profit known as Locks of Love.
And then I didn’t.
Locks of Love is an organization known for making wigs for children out of the real hair donations they receive. The not-for-profit has existed since 1997 and receives thousands of donations every week.
The interesting thing about Locks of Love, however, isn’t what they do. It’s what they don’t do.
Around the time that I decided I wanted to keep my hair on my own head, I had joined an online community for women with long hair.
Though my reasons for joining the community were not related to my wishes to donate to Locks of Love, the topic inevitably came up among members. I remember one post that began,
“I just got back from the hairdressers and can’t stop sobbing. My hip length hair now reaches my shoulders. I don’t even care about that little girl Mary…give me my hair back!!”
The author was writing about a recent donation she had made to Locks of Love. Within several minutes, hesitant yet harried responses came in.
“I hate to tell you this…”
I was soon gawking at the accusations being made before my eyes on the screen. Locks of Love, perhaps one of the best known non-profits among women and little girls, was being cut out as nothing more than a corrupt organization known only because of word-of-mouth.
Members of the online community were spouting out information that I had never heard—that Locks of Love didn’t report to the Better Business Bureau for years, they only made 113 wigs in 2002, they threw away over 80% of the donations they received and didn’t report all their earnings. I didn’t know what to think. So I researched on my own.
A 2007 New York Times article quickly pointed me in the right direction. The article, entitled “Lather, Rinse, Donate,” discusses several hair donation organizations, among them Locks of Love. In the article is part of an actual interview with Locks of Love president Madonna Coffman.
“A check would be easier for me,” she says. “But would the donors get out of it what they do? No.”
What I read backed up what I had initially heard, and Locks of Love still isn’t completely cleared on the Better Business Bureau’s list, mostly because they refuse to report all of their financial information.
I went back to the community and realized that responses were now not only written out of concern for the organization, but out of concern for women. It seemed that many members—some with hair they’d never cut in their lives—were often harassed by friends, family, and even strangers into donating to Locks of Love. For some reason, people thought that these women should give up a part of themselves simply because they had something others did not. While this may seem selfish at first glance, one woman brought up a good point.
“Usually I turn to the person and say, ‘I see you’re wearing a nice sweater. Why don’t you take that off and give it to a homeless person?’”
Another woman was more sincere. “Some of us don’t want to give up our hair because it’s one precious thing we have, even if we have nothing else.”
While reading the Bullet’s coverage of the women’s basketball team’s event, I took one look at the two girls on the bottom left corner of the article and said, “They don’t want to do that.”
Those girls were cutting off something that made them feel beautiful, and they knew it. What I want to tell them is that they can still feel beautiful and unselfish, all in keeping their hair.
Volunteer at a local soup kitchen. Read to children. Visit an elderly folks home. Clean up your neighborhood. Give up your Saturday afternoon to play with pets at the SPCA. Your hair will grow back, but your time won’t. Which do you think has more value? A $3,000 hairpiece or the happiness you create by spending your weekends playing with the child who would receive it?
Laura Pilati is a junior.