Photo used with permission of Vincent Su
During the pandemic, seniors Eddie Wang, Jash Gada and Vincent Su received the Jefferson Award for Public Service after starting Bay Cuts, a free haircut service for the homeless individuals living near the Grace Baptist Church.
They first began giving haircuts to their friends and families as a hobby but soon realized they could use their skills to assist the homeless during the pandemic. Gada and Su had been cutting hair before the shelter-in-place orders, while Wang picked it up during quarantine when he had to cut his own hair to minimize contact with others.
“I didn’t want my mother to cut my hair anymore,” Su said. “I started watching Youtube tutorials on the basics of hair-cutting and gradually learned as I practiced on my brother and friends.”
As the virus spread, Wang, Gada and Su thought about the impact of heightened COVID-19 restrictions on the accessibility of basic activities like grocery shopping, eating at restaurants and receiving haircuts and realized they could use their skills to benefit those struggling in their current situation. Wang got in touch with a Lynbrook alumnus, Sachin Radhakrishnan, who suggested cutting hair for homeless people, so they signed up to volunteer at Grace Baptist Church.
At first, Wang, Gada and Su gave haircuts without much thought to the status and stereotypes imposed upon their clients. It wasn’t until they began learning the stories of the people they were serving that they felt a deeper connection with their new acquaintances. This prompted them to work toward addressing the stigmas surrounding homelessness by creating an Instagram account to share the background stories of certain homeless people.
“We want to show society that homeless people are not some aliens to our community but actually are just normal and genuine people like us,” Wang said. “We believe that haircuts give them a chance to have a fresh start and a confidence boost, whether it’s to get a job or interacting with others.”
On a typical day at the church, Wang, Gada and Su arrive around 10 a.m. to prepare, disinfect their materials and set up their stations. In the meantime, their customers line up and have their temperatures taken to ensure that no obvious symptoms of COVID-19 are present. Once cleared, clients sit in a waiting room until their names are called. Wang, Gada and Su give five to ten haircuts each per session, ending at around 1 p.m. Besides cutting hair, they also enjoy getting to know their customers through casual conversations and basketball.
“I feel a sense of warmth seeing clients smile as they look in the mirror,” Gada said. “It is really rewarding to get to connect and interact with such diverse people who have faced some hardships in life and have their own unique stories to tell.”
Gada connected especially with one particular client, Étienne, when he heard about his story about his immigration to the U.S. When he receives his paperwork, Etienne plans on picking up his life by applying to get a job. Gada feels like he has helped boost Etienne’s confidence by giving him a haircut that allows him to feel comfortable.
“I won’t lie, I wasn’t expecting this good of a haircut from a kid,” Etienne said to Gada. “I praise you for doing God’s work. You made my day.”
Bay Cuts’ accomplishments include receiving the Jefferson Award and being interviewed by Columbia Broadcasting System Bay Area, where they shared their experiences and brought to audiences’ attention the background stories of the individuals they serve. In light of a stabbing incident that occurred on Nov. 22 at the Grace Baptist Church, Bay Cuts hope to assist them in any way possible.
“I hate to see something devastating happen, especially at a place I go every week,” Su said. “I will do my best to help and recreate the positive environment that the church once had.”
Moving forward, Bay Cuts is looking to expand the range of churches where they provide their services. They also hope to recruit more team members, especially ones who are able to give haircuts to female clients.