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    Things get hairy for Matt Fesemyer during the Woodridge (Ill.) Department of Public Works' 2010 Stache for Cash fundraiser. As of mid-November, he and his colleagues had raised $6,500. Photo: Woodridge Department of Public Works

The Woodridge (Ill.) Department of Public Works has a history of generosity, helping with fundraisers run by neighboring agencies. Last year, though, the operation's 33 employees got to thinking they'd like to have an event of their own.

“Our goal was to get a fundraiser that we could run, and that other public departments could pick up and run with,” says Foreman Ron Roehn.

Everyone brainstormed, but it was maintenance worker Brian Evans who came up with “Stache for Cash.” While lying in bed, he had an epiphany that made him throw back the covers, grab a pad of paper, and furiously scribble his thoughts.

The concept: Participants begin the month of October clean-shaven, then spend the weeks leading up to Halloween growing mustaches, collecting donations (and taking progress photos) along the way. At the end of the month, employees vote on the best mustache. The money they raise buys holiday gifts for local families.

“It's a full departmental effort,” says Director of Public Works Chris Bethel. “Everyone pitches in to help run it, shop for gifts, wrap them, and deliver them.”

Employees work closely with the school district's social worker to coordinate the process and identify the neediest children. They draw attention to the effort by reaching out to friends and family and calling local radio stations.

The inaugural competition took place last year, with 17 employees agreeing to ditch their razors and shavers in the name of charity. After raising more than $2,700 they aimed for an even $3,000 this year.

They're blowing that number out of the water. As of mid-November, the same number of participants had raised twice the goal amount and at press time donations were still coming in.

“Last year, we were able to help about 20 families,” Bethel says. “It's really fulfilling this year help an even larger group.”

In addition to showing compassion for less fortunate members of the community, “Stache for Cash” boosts spirits. Selling candy bars or tins of popcorn raises money but not as many laughs. Roehn says employees got a kick out of Bethel's mustache — “He looked like a Civil War colonel” — and the golden-mustachioed Mr. Potato Head trophy bestowed upon the winner (this year to Equipment Technician Rich Meyer) is a much sought-after prize.

If you think the competition is just an excuse to sport some sweet facial hair, growing the ‘staches isn't all fun and games. Maintenance worker Matt Fesemyer's fiancé couldn't look at him as the hair under his nose grew bushier, Bethel's daughter was embarrassed to be seen with her hirsute dad, and more than one participant raced for his razor immediately after the competition ended. But they're proud of their contributions.

“It's shocking to see the list of families in need — heartbreaking,” Roehn says. “This is a great way for us to make a difference, and it's an event we'd like to see spread all over the place.”

— Jenni Spinner (jspinwrites@gmail.com) is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former editor of PUBLIC WORKS.