AMHERST — Anyone walking into Hangar Pub and Grill Sunday afternoon might not have immediately known there was a fundraiser for childhood cancer research going on.
There was lots of beer, lots of appetizers, live music and raffle prizes. Why the large gathering? The giveaway: dozens of them were bald. Little kids running around, bald. Grown men sipping beer, bald. (There were also lots of people who would not be giving up their locks, thank you very much.)
They all flocked to the Hangar to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for childhood cancer research. The cornerstone of a St. Baldrick’s fundraiser is that many who come will lose their locks in solidarity with cancer patients who have lost their hair.
“It’s important to show to the kids who lose their hair, that it’s not weird or strange to be bald,” said Matt Malo, the event’s lead organizer.
Besides that, there’s the money aspect. Malo said the annual Amherst fundraiser typically nets $60,000 for the California foundation. He has helped organize the regional “shave-a-thon” for eight years now.
This year, the preliminary fundraising total was $55,000 and between 140 and 150 shaved their heads, Malo said.
“My crew busts their butt every year for this,” said Malo, a sergeant at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Police Department.
First responders have a heavy role in the Amherst fundraiser. In addition to UMass police, the Amherst Fire Department, the Hadley Police Department and the Massachusetts State Police all participate in organizing and fundraising.
“It is a group effort,” Malo said, “to hopefully eradicate this monster.”
One person who did shave his head Sunday was Chris Bushey, 32, of Easthampton, who works at the Hangar.
“There’s no better cause than (fighting) childhood cancer,” he said. And on his new haircut, “It’s terrific, especially now at the beginning of summer — it’s the best way to be.”
Against the cheerful backdrop, there was also pain in evidence Sunday. Twelve-year-old Luke Bradley of South Hadley is battling leukemia and was napping on a cushioned bench as other children ran around playing.
“I would say his faith, his family and football are the three things that would say the most about him,” said his dad, Ryan Bradley. “And just character-wise, a tremendous amount of determination.”
He said when Luke was diagnosed six years ago, his and his family’s situation became the type of thing you read about in the news.
“There’s a feeling like, ‘oh my, we’re really in this,’” Ryan Bradley said of when he and his wife, Nikki, found out Luke had cancer. “You read about these things, you hear about it, but now we’re in it.”
These types of events provide hope, which is incredibly important when you’re battling a degrading illness, Bradley said. And they show the community cares.
If you are trying to solve problems, the slow pace of progress can be demoralizing. Bradley said there are advancements in childhood cancer research, making donating worth it.
“Sometimes people give and they wonder, is the money going to the right place, or even if it is, is it a lost cause, right?” Bradley said. “And, this is not.”
Jack Suntrup can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.