A lineup of hairdressers were busy at work cutting the locks off dozens of girls from various age groups, but this was not some hot new salon opening in South Brunswick.
Both Indian Fields Elementary School and Crossroads South Middle School held special events this week that saw about 75 combined women donate their hair to be turned into wigs for cancer patients.
At Indian Fields on Monday, over 20 donors signed up to cut their hair for the Locks of Love program. Locks of Love provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged kids under 21-years-old suffering from hair loss due to any diagnosis.
"It's really important for kids to feel that they can help other kids," said Student Assistance Counselor and event organizer Amy Bertelsen-Robles. "This is something that empowers students to know they can do something small to help someone else. Times are tough economically, and people who used to donate financially can't afford it anymore. So this is a way for them to help."
Bertelsen-Robles said she was inspired to get involved with Locks of Love after her niece was diagnosed with cancer. Bertelsen-Robles' sister Gemma Bertelsen said the impact on a cancer patient as they go through tough chemotherapy treatments is made all the worse by losing their hair, as she experienced with her daughter Hope.
"The first time my daughter lost her hair she was about 12, and it was like the hair just lifted off of her head," Gemma said. "I just started to cry."
For Hope Bertelsen, 21, her initial cancer diagnosis didn't hit her quite as hard as losing her hair did.
"I didn't cry when I was first diagnosed with cancer, but I cried when I lost my hair," Hope said. "I was only 12-years-old and I was going bald. I used to have really long hair. When I got my wig, it looked like my old hair and it made me feel like I was myself again. I don't even know if I would've been able to donate my hair when I was the age of some of these girls. I'm blown away at this kind of generosity."
Donors typically cut off about 8 to 12 inches of hair to donate for the program.
As a cancer survivor, Indian Fields PTO member Claudia Beauregard had a deeply personal reason to donate.
"It feels very rewarding to get my hair cut to help someone go through what I went through. It's very emotional," Beauregard said. "Your whole body changes when you're going through the treatments, so having a wig really helps a lot. It lets you take back being a woman again."
Sisters Sisira and Shreya Mandapaka, both elementary school students, said they enjoyed getting their haircuts, knowing it would help other kids in need.
"It's pretty cool knowing my hair goes to a good cause that makes someone else smile," Sisira said. "For me it's not a big deal to get my hair cut, but it just feels good to help other kids."
Thank you bags for the donors were provided by Conair Corp., Confectionately Yours, Target, Burger King, McDonalds, Stop & Shop, Party Fair, and Joanne Moran. A group of hairdressers from D'Bella, Hair Mania, Hair Cuttery and Unisex also volunteered their time to cut and style hair for those who donated.
"It's so important to women to have healthy and beautiful hair, so this is our way of giving back to the community," said Charisse Smith, of Hair Mania in Kendall Park.
The donation event on Wednesday at Crossroads South was before they decided to involve the entire school in a drive to benefit the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program.
Eighth-graders Elizabeth Kenny and Janine Lagarnne were expecting to gather a dozen or so volunteers from the Crossroads student body to donate their hair. But before they knew it, 47 students signed up. The school celebrated the volunteers during a raucous assembly before the girls lined up for their haircuts from volunteers out of Salon NV on Route 27.
"It's so exciting to see this finally happen," Elizabeth said, while having 9 inches of her hair chopped off. "I got a little nervous about what it's going to look like when I felt the scissors saw through my hair, but it's such a good feeling to help someone else."
Beautiful Lengths is a partnership between Pantene and the American Cancer Society, which has donated 18,000 free real-hair wigs to the ACS wig banks to be distributed to cancer patients across the country.
Both girls, who developed the plan with help from Crossroads Principal Ray Tucholski, said they were amazed by how many students from the school were willing to give up some of their hair for the cause.
"We presented this idea to the whole school and thought maybe we'd get 12 people to do it," Janine said. "It's so amazing to see how many girls volunteered to give up a part of themselves."
For Tucholski, who is retiring at the end of this school year, the donation event was a fitting way for him to end his time in the district by seeing his students put in practice many of the character initiatives South Brunswick focuses on.
"I can't think of a better gift," Tucholski said. "These kids have just been super and they always want to give. This really speaks to who our kids are."