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Beard Patrol brings cancer awareness during No-Shave November

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Photo by: Antonio Reyes | Staff Photographer
San Marcos Police Department officers participate in the No-shave November Challenge for Testicular Cancer awaremess.

This month, police officers across the state are adding a new accessory to their uniforms— beards.

During the month of November, police officers from across the state—including those from the SMPD—will be participating in “No-Shave November” with the objective of raising money for testicular cancer research.

Each year 8,430 Americans are diagnosed with testicular cancer, resulting in nearly 400 deaths annually. The National Cancer Institute is looking to change these statistics through local outreach efforts.

The foundation has partnered with the San Marcos Police Department. Called Beard Patrol, the partnership is an attempt to lessen the number of testicular cancer cases by raising funds for the institute.

“Most police departments do not allow their officers to grow beards,” said Matt Ferstler, founder and CEO of the Testicular Cancer Foundation. “If an officer wants to be allowed to grow a beard, they pay a $25 donation to the Testicular Cancer Foundation.”

Although every department has its own set of rules and guidelines for the donations, the general consensus for the fundraiser is $25 per officer who decides to grow facial hair, he said. Each participating officer receives a wristband that they are required to wear throughout the month.

“It all started a couple years back when the Travis County Sheriff’s Office and Austin Police Department raised money by allowing officers to grow beards,” Ferstler said.

After the success of that first event, TCF opened the initiative to include all of Texas. The foundation contacted hundreds of police departments, many of which are now gearing up to participate in the initiative, Ferstler said.

“It’s important for everyone to understand why we do what we do,” Ferstler said. “We are a survivor-led organization, so we’ve got a lot of passion driving what we do. One hundred percent of the money we raise rolls back into community.”

The campaign extends past “No-Shave November,” Ferstler said. He hopes to expand the partnership and said TCF plans to hold another challenge next year.

“People in town are not used to seeing officers in uniform wearing beards,” said Chase Stapp, chief of SMPD and participant in the fundraiser. “So I anticipate it will result in some level of conversation between the police department and the community, which will hopefully generate awareness for our cause.”

Despite this being SMPD’s first year participating in the challenge, Stapp has high hopes for the program and expects the department is capable of raising around $800 for the initiative.

“After the TCF reached out to us, I spoke to some people here at the department and saw a high level of interest,” he said. “We’re not a huge police department, so it’s not difficult to get an idea back from our folks.”

Twenty-five officers have donated, and Stapp expects the number will be closer to 30 by next week.

“I’ve had a friend impacted by testicular cancer who happens to be an officer here, and I doubt there are any of us who doesn’t know someone who has been affected,” Stapp said. “Anything we can do to raise funds and broaden awareness—I’m all for it.”

Stapp wants to know the response from the community on the success of the fundraiser in order to access future plans with different initiatives.

“We may do it again next year, but we’d like to know how this one goes first,” he said. “We tend to do a few fundraisers every year, and we take pride in giving back.”

Connor O’Leary, chief mission officer and cancer survivor, said next year the TCF hopes to expand the Beard Patrol campaign on a nationwide scale.

O’Leary said the TCF focuses on education, support and awareness, all of which are represented through these kinds of fundraising initiatives.

“We saw this as an incredible way to foster awareness and to get police departments involved,” he said. “Someone is diagnosed every hour, and testicular cancer is 99 percent curable if caught during stage one, so we really shouldn’t be seeing people dying from it. Our goal is to eradicate deaths caused by the cancer.”