On Pentecost Sunday, the Rev. Laurie McHugh, one of the pastors at First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, made a bold announcement: that she is putting her head – um, make that hair – on the chopping block for the sake of the Church's mission.
A spirited process of "voting with dollars" is underway, with donations going to "shave it" and "save it" tallies. Depending on the outcome, this Sunday (September 18), Pastor Laurie may be shaving her head – to exchange her blond locks for a pink Mohawk (check out the Photoshop'd version at right) – or going home with hair intact.
But make no mistake: The fun is for a purpose.
"We aren't doing this merely to amuse ourselves, or just to raise money for our congregation's needs," McHugh says. "In the spirit of those generous folks who donate their hair in solidarity with those battling cancer, we will donate half of the monies raised by the 'Shave It or Save It' effort to benefit the Treating Childhood Cancer Program of IMA World Health in Tanzania, a health mission of the global United Methodist Church through The Advance (#3020446).
"Addressing the diseases of poverty, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, is a cause near and dear to the heart of The United Methodist Church as a denomination, and our congregation in particular."
McHugh notes that the UMC is a co-founder of Nothing But Nets, an anti-malaria fundraising effort that has included the United Nations and the National Basketball Association among its partners.
"Our Outreach Committee paired up with the Stanford women's basketball team for a charity game in 2009, and we have more recently been educating and fundraising for Imagine No Malaria," she says.
Imagine No Malaria is the denomination's campaign to eliminate deaths from malaria in Africa by the year 2015. The farther-reaching campaign takes the fight against malaria beyond bed net distribution, the focus of the earlier project, to include malaria education and treatment. Already these efforts have made a great impact, drastically reducing the number of malaria deaths worldwide – from a rate of one death every 30 seconds to one every 45 seconds today, according to www.imaginenomalaria.org.
McHugh says the Tanzania project is a natural outgrowth, as it benefits children with Burkitt's Lymphoma (BL), a childhood cancer that predominantly affects young children in areas within developing nations that have a high prevalence of malaria. BL is a highly aggressive and disfiguring cancer that is fatal if left untreated. Thousands of children are afflicted, and an estimated 700 new cases are diagnosed each year in Tanzania alone.
Working primarily with faith-based health care facilities in rural Tanzania, the project's purpose is to increase survival rates of children affected by BL, by providing free diagnosis, care and treatment – including the necessary chemotherapy drugs – to children in rural Tanzania; and to strengthen the capacity of health care providers in Tanzania to diagnose and treat BL, by providing training and education.
FUMC Palo Alto member (and retired missionary) Mona Blackburn has offered to shave her head for the cause, as well. "Africa and cancer are causes that are very near to my heart," she says, but adds, "No Mohawk for me, though – I'd prefer to shave my head bald!"
The church's Finance Committee has set an overall goal of $20,000. An anonymous donor has already stepped forward with a $5,000 matching gift challenge, but on which side – "shave it" or "save it" – is unknown.
Regardless, McHugh expresses her thanks for the donor's extravagant generosity.
"This is an exciting opportunity to teach our greater community about the global priority the United Methodist Church has for eradicating the diseases of poverty, and to invite others to join us in mission," she says.
"Please tell your friends about 'Shave It or Save It' and invite them to contribute!"