COLUMBIA — The patio outside of Bleu restaurant set the stage for the second annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation Fundraiser, an event organized by MU medical students in which participants shave their heads to support pediatric cancer research.
The patio was decorated with green and white balloons. Some participants dyed their hair, and beards, green. A tiger mascot walked around greeting children and adults alike.
The sense of community and family was unmistakable.
St. Baldrick's Foundation began 12 years ago in New York when a couple of students transformed their yearly St. Patrick’s Day party — hence the Irish theme — into a head-shaving cancer benefit event. And the foundation has reached impressive heights since its creation.
“They’re the leading funder for children’s cancer research other than the U.S. government,” said Ryan Matthews, a lead organizer for the foundation. “It’s important because only 4 percent of the U.S. government funds for all cancer research goes toward pediatric cancer specifically.”
Matthews has been involved with the foundation for three years and participated in last year’s shaving event.
“It’s been really cool to watch the evolution of the foundation itself ... and to watch them get their identity,” she said.
Participants in this year’s event raised more than $39,000. A total of 71 MU students and faculty, Columbia residents and family members had their heads shaved.
Additionally, Shot Bar will be donating a portion of sales made Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. to the foundation. A silent auction was also held.
The first “shavee” of the evening was Jessica VanVactor, whose 14-year-old son, Arion, was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. Queen’s “We Will Rock You” blasted out of the speakers as Arion, with the assistance of one of the barbers, shaved the first chunk of his mother’s hair.
Next up was the energetic Will “Iron Will” Jacobs, 12, who was also diagnosed with brain cancer last summer. His father, Allen Jacobs, did the honors of Will’s shave. Per request, the DJ played AC/DC’s classic “Back in Black” for Iron Will.
Another one of this year’s participants was Barbara Hodges, who heard about the event from a couple of medical students who came to her rotary club. “I said, ‘Well, I needed a haircut,’ so I signed up,” Hodges said. “I was a little (nervous) earlier, but it’ll grow back. And it’s for a good cause.” Hodges’ rotary club raised $754.
Worldwide, more than 160,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year, and cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease among children in the United States. Foundations such as St. Baldrick's are helping the medical community get closer to curing cancer by funding the research — one shaved head at a time.