Wig charities see spike in donations from Canadians’ pandemic hair

TORONTO — Canadian charities that create wigs for children in need are seeing a spike in donations as some people have now gone more than a year without a trim.

Wigs for Kids Canada, a non-profit organization based out of St. Catharines, Ont. that designs wigs made out of human hair for children with cancer and other medical conditions, is seeing more donations than ever thanks to barbershops and hair salons closing for long stretches of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’ve seen a lot more now,” Carlo (CJ) Turavani, manager of Wigs for Kids Canada, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.  “The average before, we’d probably get anywhere from 160 to 180 donations a week, now we’re hovering around 200 a week.”

“When you add that up monthly and over the last 14 months, that’s a big increase.”

At Wigs for Kids, children receiving a wig can come into Turavani’s family hair studio to have the wig styled and shaped to the child’s wishes.

“Their faces light up for the most part, they’re so happy,” he said. “Even now, with the pandemic, they’re online learning, so they’re all on the camera, they see their classmates … through the computer, so they don’t want to be bald when they’re doing that.”

Turavani added that the wigs can also help with bullying when in-person classes resume.

While the Canadian Cancer Society stopped taking hair donations in 2018, several other organizations continue to make wigs for children who may need them.

Orly Davis, director of operations at Chai Lifeline Canada, said her organization’s wig program really grew in the pandemic as well.

“It actually took off during COVID because salons were closed and it’s one of our most popular programs that we offer,” she said.

“We got hair from Taiwan during COVID in December. It was super cool.”

Chai Lifeline Canada provides financial and emotional support to children with chronic and long-term illnesses and their families. Other programs it provides include a summer camp, hospital services and counselling, to name a few.

Davis said Chai Lifeline Canada is receiving upwards of 10 hair donations per day and even received a few on Christmas Day.

“That’s impressive, I think,” Davis said of the Christmas Day donations. “People are very generous.”

Davis added it’s sometimes a bittersweet moment for children who receive a wig.

“They are happy, but they’re sad that they’re losing their hair,” she said. “It’s pretty traumatic, especially if you’re dealing with tween- or teenage-aged children. They feel already uncomfortable with their bodies.”

A Child’s Voice Foundation, which operates Angel Hair for Kids, is also seeing an increase in donations. In email, Dolores Esposito, executive director of A Child’s Voice Foundation, said the charity has received a 20-per-cent increase in donations and inquiries about donations.

“With closures of salons across the country at various times, the questions come in as the salons open, then close,” Esposito wrote in the email. “Most start out with ‘due to the pandemic I have not a hair cut in months and would like to donate my hair.’ Some meet the requirements and are ready to donate; others commit to keep on growing their hair.”

WHAT IT TAKES TO DONATE HAIR

Depending on the organization, the hair must be at least 25 to 35 centimetres in length. Wigs for Kids does not accept hair donations that have been treated with colour or dyes, but other organizations, such as Chai Lifeline, will accept dyed hair.

“If your hair is colour treated, if your hair’s grey or white, we’ll take it, because they dye it most of the time,” Davis said.

It can cost upwards of $2,000 to create one wig, but that cost is absorbed through financial donations. It can also take upwards of 30 hair donations to create a single wig for a child.

After a child is done with a wig, Chai Lifeline will take it back and try to recycle it for another child in need.

“They’re very happy to give back the wigs to us when they’re done,” Davis said. “They’re just so happy to be done with that phase of their life.”

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