If she were alive, Erica Paige Whitney would be a seventh-grader at Trickum Middle School in Lilburn. She’d probably be looking forward to turning 13, the start of her teen years.
May 10, Mother’s Day, is her birthday. When Erica was around 7 or 8 years old, her great-aunt donated hair to Locks of Love. That’s a Florida-based nonprofit that provides free hairpieces to financially disadvantaged kids 18 and younger. Donated tresses are used to make custom-fitted wigs and hairpieces for children who suffer from long-term medical maladies.
The benevolence of Erica’s great-aunt compelled the little girl to do likewise. She put her hair in a ponytail and with a few snips of the scissors, committed a commendable, self-less act.
A few years ago, a Locks of Love spokeswoman told me that young people like Erica account for nearly 80 percent of the organization’s hair donations. Kids will see another child who’s bald, she said, and ask their parents what, exactly, they can do to help. Locks of Love has benefitted thousands of children in the United States and Canada.
So Erica, who loved to entertain and be the center of attention, helped some child, somewhere.
Nearly three years ago, Erica, a rising fifth-grader at Mountain Park Elementary, was killed in a car wreck a little south of Augusta. The family had been on a vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She died while being airlifted to the hospital.
Years later, “We still bring her up as often as we can,” said her mother, Wendy Stoner of Lilburn. “She is definitely not a taboo subject in the house. Her pictures are everywhere. She is very much ‘in the life,’ part of our family.”
And she keeps on giving.
On May 11, the third annual “Chops for Locks — Remembering Erica” will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. at Grace Fellowship Church in Snellville. Various stylists from numerous salons will offer free haircuts. The snippings will be packaged and shipped to Locks of Love in West Palm Beach.
To donate, your hair has to be a minimum of 10 inches long. It can be permed or colored, just not bleached. Bleach causes the hair to dissolve as it goes through the manufacturing process, according to the nonprofit’s Web site, www.locksoflove.com.
Last year, the community donated 182 ponytails — nearly 2,000 inches of hair — and raised a little over $1,000 at the 2008 tribute to Erica. The past two events have netted a collection of more than 3,000 inches of hair, Stoner said, and monetary donations of about $3,000. All proceeds go to the nonprofit. For more information, visit rememberingerica.com.
“It was super successful the first year,” Stoner told me, “and the second year it was even bigger. It’s been rewarding to see how many people throughout the year mention it to me or send me e-mails and say, ‘Look, I’m growing my hair out.’ [This event] is my replacement for her birthday. There are plenty of people who come just to support Erica and have fun, which is what she would have wanted.
So if you have long hair, donate it to a good cause. It’ll grow.
So might your heart.