Toco Hills family delivers six women’s hair for wigs for children with cancer

Jessica Wilson, a Toco Hills resident and social worker at Emory University, has donated her hair since college to organizations that make wigs for people with cancer. A free haircut first drew her in, and she has grown and donated 10 to 12 inches of her hair every two years since then, a total of 10 times.

Hair donation is a simple and easy way for Wilson to give back to the community.

The Wilson family arrives at Zichron Menachem with six bags of donated hair in February.

The Wilson family arrives at Zichron Menachem with six bags of donated hair in February.

“I have tons of hair. It’s really thick. It grows quickly. It was a no-brainer for me,” she said.

She has donated to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for children with cancer across the United States; Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which makes wigs for women with cancer; and a national hair donation event put on by Hadassah.

Two years ago, Wilson became friends with a couple from Israel who were working at her synagogue, Young Israel of Toco Hills, and Atlanta Jewish Academy, which Wilson’s three boys attend. The couple’s two daughters were donating their hair to an organization in Jerusalem called Zichron Menachem, which makes wigs for Israeli children who have cancer.

“They said that there’s this program in Israel that’s very much like Locks of Love, but it’s the Israeli version,” Wilson said. “They make wigs for children in Israel. It’s a much smaller organization than Locks of Love. You really know that it’s going to the kids. That’s when I first got introduced to Zichron Menachem.”

Once that other family returned to Israel, the older daughter was diagnosed with cancer and was expected to lose her hair through chemo. Wilson donated her hair to Zichron Menachem in the hope that the girl she knew would receive it. She mailed the hair through the organization’s office in New York.

Wilson later learned that the girl didn’t lose her hair after all and was actually in remission and healthy.

Over the summer, Wilson’s hair was long enough to donate again. A co-worker at Emory told her she had always wanted to donate her hair but was afraid. Wilson encouraged her to donate and said they would do it together.

Wilson’s co-worker agreed to donate her hair to Zichron Menachem as well, and the original plan was to mail the hair again through the New York office. But Wilson and her family decided to travel to Israel several months later in honor of her son Simmy’s upcoming bar mitzvah celebration, and she wanted to donate the hair in person. She called Zichron Menachem and made the arrangements.

Word spread around Toco Hills about her hair donation, and soon four other women she knew asked Wilson to bring their donated hair with her to the organization in Israel.
Wilson agreed to bring hair donations from Garet Green, Esther Kaiser, Simcha Frieda Kaiser, Mindy Tanenbaum and Chava Neiditch. Wilson said she was overwhelmed about transporting that much hair.

“They have tight security when you go on planes to Israel,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘What if they stop me and say, “What is all this hair?” What if I explain it and they say, “No, you can’t take it?” What if they say it’s too suspicious?’”

Zichron Menachem’s facilities for children with cancer and their families include an arcade, a library and a music room.

Zichron Menachem’s facilities for children with cancer and their families include an arcade, a library and a music room.

But Wilson had no problems taking the hair to Israel. Wilson and her family visited Zichron Menachem in Jerusalem on the last day of a 10-day trip to Israel in February. She carried the hair everywhere she traveled and was protective of it because the other women were counting on her to donate it.

Wilson and her family were blown away when the visited Zichron Menachem and found out that the facility does much more than make wigs for children. The organization is named after a boy who was diagnosed with cancer at 18 months old and fought for 15 years before dying in 1991.

Zichron Menachem has many activities and services for children with cancer and their families, including video arcades, gyms, movies, music lessons, air hockey, pool tables, social workers, reflexologists and counseling.

Kids are taken there from the hospital so they can enjoy themselves and stop thinking about being sick. Offerings for parents include massage therapy and exercise classes.

Everything at Zichron Menachem is free, thanks to private donations and volunteers. Families from across Israel visit the facility, and its support programs are connected with hospitals around the country.

“I would love to see this spread to the United States,” Wilson said. “At the very least, people should know about this and think about donating to this because it’s such an amazing place. It’s specifically helping children in Israel.”

Wilson suggests donating to Zichron Menachem instead of Locks of Love because the Israeli organization is a much smaller program, enabling you to see the benefits of your donation.

She plans to donate her hair as long as she can, although she will most likely mail it to Zichron Menachem next time unless she knows someone else who is going to Israel and willing to make the special delivery.