NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – What happens when you take 150 people with big hearts and lots of hair and stick them in an emptied out fire department parking bay? If you do it in North Plainfield, NJ, you raise more than $100,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to help conquer childhood cancer.
People came from all over the state, from Bloomfield to Franklin, to have fun and make a difference in the lives of thousands of children. Captain Rob Beattie, who has coordinated the event for the past 10 years, said the $90,000 in online contributions is complemented by more than $10,000 in event day contributions. That’s on top of the $600,000 raised over the past decade.
“It started over a decade ago as a friendly challenge in our firefighter’s lounge,” said Beattie, affectionately called Cap B by the other fire fighters. “We read about St. Baldrick’s in Firehouse Magazine, and one of us said they’d do it if others did, and we all agreed. It’s snowballed since then.
Among the participants was seven year old cancer survivor Matt Hannon of South Plainfield. Matt was born with Ewing sarcoma and was not expected to live five years. But there he was today cured of his cancer and shaving his own head to help others have the same result. Matt was the top fundraiser on the South Plainfield Fire Department Team, bringing in $1100 in donations online and more in person.
“I wanted to do this for kids with cancer,” said Matt. “And shaved my head for kids like me.”
This year featured the first Skype shave in the event’s history, with Franklin resident and long-time participant Bill Quarless giving up his hair over the Internet from Hong Kong where he is on a business trip. He’s raised almost $13,000 online and is the largest fundraiser for the event.
St. Baldrick’s uses the funds from this and other events like it to make grants for research that is reviewed ahead of time to ensure it is promising and has the potential to make a difference. Recently they also added funding for programs geared towards the lifelong challenges survivors face including loss of limbs, blindness and developmental delays.
Don Jervis, a Fire Captain in Bloomfield and part-time EMT for North Plainfield, was not only shaving his head but also his moustache. A moustache he’d had since leaving the service 24 years ago and might be called a “soup strainer.” It’s his first year shaving his head for children with cancer, but is not his first foray into helping others. He’s been doing the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics for 20 years, but his two teenage boys encouraged him to also participate in St. Baldrick’s this year.
He’s particularly grateful to Beattie for managing this for so many years. “The fact that he can keep this going year after year and have so many people so interested and excited and coming back is incredible,” said Jervis. “It’s truly amazing and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
Doug Fontenello of the Green Brook Rescue Squad and his son Michael have been participating for years. Doug started six years ago, and Michael joined in three years previously so that they could have their heads shaved together.
Sarah McDonnell, a fourteen year old high school student from Hillsborough, raised more than three thousand dollars for the Franklin Fire District team. In addition to St. Baldrick's Sarah has also been a volunteer mentoring children with autism and Down's Syndrome. She attended the event with her extremely proud parents.
“I’ve had a friend go through childhood cancer,” McDonnell said. “I’m doing this for her, and to show it’s OK to go bald so people aren’t afraid to do it if they have to.”
In addition to raising money for St. Baldrick’s, a group of middle school students sold rubber band bracelets and collected funds for their friend Quinn who was diagnosed with leukemia last year. Calling themselves Team Quinn they have raised thousands of dollars in support of the boy with these sales and a walkathon with 200 participants last fall. Tom Knapp, Quinn’s father, said his boy had recently lost his hair as he completes his chemotherapy treatment and is glad to see other people shaving their heads in solidarity with him.
John Murray, Quinn’s friend at Crim School in Martinsville, said, “I think it’s really great to be here because we’re supporting our friend Quinn who needs us. I’m really grateful to St. Baldrick’s for helping us to raise money for Quinn.”
Event organizer Rob Beattie presented them with medals in honor of their amazingly generous actions and gave them a table to raise more at his own event. “We like to have the bragging rights of one of the largest St. Baldrick’s events in New Jersey,” said Beattie. “But what it’s really about is helping kids with childhood cancer. Some of us do it with St. Baldricks, and others do it with local activities like Team Quinn. We’re happy to have them with us and to honor them for their work.”
Donations can still be made on the North Plainfield Fire Department event page.