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When time and money are short, give of yourself

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According to the American Cancer Society, it takes between 6 and 10 ponytails of long hair to make one wig. Tracy Briggs / Forum News Service2 / 4
Justin Vega shows off one of the ponytails of hair he cut off to donate to charity. Tracy Briggs / Forum News Service3 / 4
Justin Vega grew his hair out for two years so he could cut it for charity. Tracy Briggs / Forum News Service4 / 4

WEST FARGO — Justin Vega sits in the barber chair covered in a cloak looking both excited and a little nervous.

"Are you ready for this?" asks Men's Hairhouse Stylist Destiny Ose.

"As ready as I'll ever be," he replies.

As tentative as Vega sounds, he says he's been looking forward to getting his hair cut after a long, two-year wait. The operations coordinator at Noridian Healthcare Solutions normally wears his hair closely cropped, but in 2016 he decided to grow it out to donate to charity.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," he says. "Not only was I curious about what I would look like with long hair, I knew it was a small act I could do that would mean a lot to someone else."

Vega is not alone.

Since 1981, when the first hair donation charity began, the number of people donating hair every year has been increasing. In a time when people find themselves strapped for both money and time to volunteer, helping others is as easy as taking a hiatus from the salon.

According to the American Cancer Society, it takes anywhere from six to 10 ponytails of long hair to make one wig. The organization has partnered with Pantene Beautiful Lengths to distribute free wigs to people undergoing cancer treatment. Since 2006, the organization has made 42,000 wigs from 800,000 donations it's received. However, not all hair is deemed usable and Locks of Love — the most popular hair donation charity — has taken heat for only using about 20 percent of its hair donations. Still, good quality hair can be put to use and is an easy way to give back when you feel limited by time or money.

Before cutting, Vega's hair measured at 10 inches. To donate to Pantene, hair must be unbleached, without dye, longer than 8 inches and no more than 5 percent gray.

A couple of summers ago, Patty Fresonke of Moorhead and her boyfriend, Zach Twigg, elected to donate their hair to Wigs for Kids, an Ohio-based non-profit which provides free wigs to children who might have lost hair from cancer treatment, burns or other medical conditions such as alopecia or trichotillomania.

"I guess we have a soft spot for kids," she told Forum News Service in 2015.

Vega did his research and decided Pantene was the best fit for him. But the time came to pay the piper. Ose put Vega's hair into several small ponytails before making the first cut.

"There you go," she says.

"The ceremonial first cut. Feels good," Vega says.

As Ose finished the cut, Vega admitted it's "refreshing" to have his old hair back.

Vega encourages everyone to donate their hair at least once.

"I think if everyone did it, it would have a huge impact," he says. "What's the old saying? A lot of hands in the pot make small work."

 Donating 'you'

Hair isn't the only body part you can donate to charity. For example, in February, Oak Grove Theater Director Scott Brusven and three theater students raised about $6,500 for their production which led to them to getting their legs waxed. Here are seven other ways you give of yourself without spending a lot of time or money. In some cases, your bodily donation will actually earn money for you.

1. Blood

According to The American Red Cross, blood transfusions have been going on since 1665 when a British physician kept a dog alive by giving him blood from other dogs. By the 1800s, humans were receiving transfusions. The need today is great with U.S. hospitals going through about 40,000 pints a day. For more information, contact the American Red Cross or United Blood Services.

2. Plasma

While blood banks won't pay you to donate blood, you can earn money by donating plasma (the yellow liquid part of the blood that contains proteins). It's used in medical emergencies and helps people to regain nutrients, hormones and proteins to parts of the body that need it after suffering burns, shock and trauma. After getting screened, plasma donors can give at centers such as Talecris and Biolife twice a week. While the pay differs from center to center (and demand), it can range from $20 to $50 a donation.

3. Bone Marrow

Bone marrow is needed for people suffering from leukemia, lymphoma and other immune system disorders. To donate, contact the National Marrow Donor Program where your tissue will be matched with someone in need. However, it's not likely you'll end up donating. According the the National Marrow Donor Program, only about 1 in 500 donor's marrow ends up going to someone in need.

4. Breast Milk

A mother's breast milk is best, according to pediatricians. But some new mothers are unable to provide milk for their babies and some babies don't tolerate formula well. Requirements differ among milk banks, but some require milk donations that come from women who have given birth less than a year ago or live within a certain distance from the milk bank. The closest milk bank to Fargo-Moorhead is in Iowa City, Iowa. For more information, contact the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

5. Sperm

Sperm is needed for couples unable to conceive a child on their own. Donors are screened for infectious diseases and genetic disorders and must meet other requirements which can include minimum height standards and holding a college degree. Donors receive approximately $50 per donation and may require a commitment for more than one donation. Because sperm can be used for reproductive services after it's been frozen, donations can be shared throughout the United States. For more information, contact the SpermBankDirectory.com.

6. Umbilical cord blood

Stem cells present in umbilical cord blood are used in the treatment of some cancers, bone marrow disorders and immune diseases. Donating cord blood actually begins before your baby is even born with the mother filling out a questionnaire between 28 and 34 weeks of pregnancy. Both baby and mother are screened for disease and a family history of cancer. For more information, contact The National Marrow Donor Program.

7. Organs, tissues or your whole body

In most cases, this will be the last thing you donate. Donated organs — including heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines and pancreas — save lives every day. The good news is over the last five years, organ donations in the U.S. increased by 20 percent, according to preliminary data by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). The bad news, according to OrganDonor.gov, is more than 116,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ and 20 people die everyday waiting for a transplant. You can express your wishes to donate organs after death by joining your state's organ donor registry program. If you wish to donate your entire body to science, arrangements can be made with many medical schools. In some cases, however, you can donate organs before you die, including kidneys and a portion of your liver.

Tracy Briggs

Tracy Briggs is a former TV anchor/radio host currently working as a features writer and video host for Forum Communications.

(701) 451-5632
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