Changing lives one wig at a time: Buckeye nonprofit offers cancer patients free wigs
Sisters who beat breast cancer created EBeauty to support women undergoing hair loss conditions and treatment for cancer.
BUCKEYE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - October is a month devoted to spreading awareness about breast cancer, and EBeauty does just that by giving free wigs to women with hair loss conditions and those undergoing cancer treatment.
EBeauty’s wig exchange program is the only one of its kind in the country. The program allows women to donate their wigs to other women. EBeauty receives roughly 12,000 wigs each month from community members and companies like UNice, Torico, and The American Cancer Society.
Volunteer coordinator Leslie Rager said packages of donated wigs come in every day at the EBeauty house located in victory at the Verrado Community. “We’re getting mail and getting letters saying this was my mom’s wig and she never got to wear it, or I’m sending you these from my wife, or family member,” she said.
The idea was created by Carolyn Keller, a two-time breast cancer survivor. She said she watched her sister-in-laws battle the same illness and passed her wig down to them. “This sort of gave us an idea if this worked in our family this could work for other families across the country.”
Over the last ten years, the organization has donated over 70,000 wigs. In addition, it has provided wigs to hospitals through its Hospital Partnership Program, which includes St. Joseph’s, Community Support Services of Arizona, and M.D. Anderson in Arizona. The partnership makes it easier for patients to try on wigs in person until they find the right fit.
Keller’s sister, Laura Jirsa, has also beat breast cancer twice and explained hair loss could also take an emotional toll on loved ones. Jirsa says a wig made her feel more like herself and was more than an accessory. “It’s very personal whether someone wears a wig or not, but for me, it was necessary,” says Jirsa. “It’s really important for your husband, family members, loved ones, friends, and people in the community because they want to see you look as normal as possible... it makes the healing process better for everyone going through it,” Jirsa said.
Keller saw a need because wigs can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. EBeauty aims to eliminate those obstacles for people. Keller says, “there’s so many women out there who can’t afford to put food on the table let alone pay for a wig, and most insurance companies don’t cover the cost.”
The organization relies heavily on volunteers, which became a struggle to sustain during the pandemic. Rager, who has lived in Arizona for nearly three decades, suggested a change. “The Phoenix metropolitan area was a good area for volunteerism,” Rager said. As a result, EBeauty relocated from Washington D.C to Buckeye in April of this year, and volunteers from all over Arizona devote around two to four hours each day.
Volunteers sort through new to gently used wigs synthetically made or made of real hair. “When we receive wig orders online, our volunteers will look at the wig recipient’s picture of what they look like, so we do our best to find them a wig that makes them look like themselves,” Rager said.
But, before the wigs are re-packaged and shipped out to their new owner, volunteers will need to send them to Paul Mitchell Beauty Schools, where student stylists volunteer their time to shampoo and style them. Once EBeauty gets the clean wigs back, volunteers will check through the wigs numerous times to ensure customers get high-quality hair. The sisters said they recently began giving out two wigs per order; each package comes with a hairbrush and cleaning instructions.
To donate, sign-up, or volunteer, visit ebeauty.com.
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