Ottawa

Cooped-up Canadians turning hair into happiness for sick kids

Stuck inside without an open barber shop or hair salon in sight, an increasing number of Canadians have decided to donate their long, flowing locks to charity.

Ontario organizations that help turn hair into wigs see growth during pandemic

Hair donations on the rise during pandemic, giving sick kids a chance ‘to feel a little bit more themselves’

8 months ago
0:53
Lydia Blanchard, community engagement director for the CHEO Foundation, says donated hair can have a big impact on the lives of kids who are undergoing cancer treatment. 0:53

Stuck inside without an open barber shop or hair salon in sight, an increasing number of Canadians have decided to donate their long, flowing locks to charity.

Ontario organizations that take donations of long hair to make wigs for sick children say they've seen an uptick in the number of donors, growth that's at least partly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Ottawa, children's hospital CHEO moved what was an annual one-day charity event — during which participants raised money and cut their hair off — online due to COVID-19, and now accepts donations all year round.

The hospital has been getting envelopes of hair and donations on a weekly basis, and that's important given the profound effect a wig can have on a young person's life, said community engagement director Lydia Blanchard.

"It's beyond just that 'I'm fighting cancer' or 'I'm battling this disease that is eating away at all of my healthy cells and that's why my hair's falling out,'" she said. 

"It's more than that. It's now like, 'Putting on a wig, I can constantly go to class and feel like myself and not feel embarrassed.'"

'I can't manage it anymore'

The Canadian Cancer Society stopped accepting donations in 2018, leaving people in search of new places willing to take their long, beautiful, sometimes scraggly locks. 

Wigs for Kids, a not-for-profit based in St. Catharines, Ont., that accepts hair from people across Canada, said it's seen donations rise 30 to 35 per cent since the end of Ontario's first lockdown last spring.

The donation process includes a question about why people have decided to cut off their locks, said CJ Turavani, who works with the organization.

"Some of the responses are, 'Because I let it grow out during COVID," Turavani said. "It's too long. I can't manage it anymore, so I just wanted to cut it off to donate.'" 

CJ Turavani, who works with Wigs for Kids, a not-for-profit based in St. Catharines, Ont., says that many people seem to be cutting their hair at home. (CBC)

In Mississauga, Ont., the Child's Voice Foundation has seen a similar increase, which they also attribute to cooped-up Canadians. 

"People kind of started out with, 'Since COVID I haven't had a haircut,' or 'Now that I'm on this journey with this long hair, I'll continue to grow it. What do you need?'" said executive director Dee Esposito.

Having hair can mean the world 

The need is significant given that an out-of-pocket, high-quality wig can run a family thousands of dollars and isn't always covered by insurance. 

While each organization has different donation guidelines, hair typically needs to be about 30 centimetres long, clean and preferably un-dyed. 

According to Child's Voice, some of the reasons a child needs a wig include chemotherapy, cranial radiation, alopecia, burns or trichotillomania — a disorder where a person pulls out their own hair. 

"At least we are here to help them to get their image back and give them their self-confidence and not let them feel horrible about themselves," said Amalia Ruggiero, the president of the board.

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