Long Beach's Mustaches for Kids kicks off its annual fundraiser for children with cancer

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Mustaches for Kids will kick off its annual fundraiser at Shine’s on Saturday for children undergoing treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the month-long initiative will culminate with the ’Stache Bash at Bridgeview Yacht Club on Nov. 16.

The Long Beach-based non-profit organization raises money for MSK Kids, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s pediatric cancer program. More than a decade after a group of friends from Long Beach joined together to help children with cancer, the organization has raised more than $700,000 to date.

Mustaches for Kids is a volunteer-run, national organization that supports children with cancer by having volunteers grow mustaches in order to generate donations for children’s charities. Friends Vinny Leis, Billy Kupferman, James Bogdan and Justin Fitzmartin — all of whom are teachers — launched the Long Beach chapter 13 years ago.

“It was our friend Billy’s idea to form Mustaches for Kids to help kids with cancer,” Leis said. “Two of his students were diagnosed with cancer that year and he wanted to help other families.”

The group’s month-long initiative will begin with a “shave day” at Shine’s in the West End, where participants, or “growers,’ register for the event and begin with cleanly shaven faces or simply participate with fully-grown mustaches.

“Shave Day used to be that people would have to come in clean shaven but this year, participants can come in shaved or can sport a mustache,” said Leis, a technology teacher at Baldwin High School. “We had a lot of people in the past support the charity, but they didn’t want to shave off their mustaches — now they can bring that iconic mustache in and raise money.”

Between 50 to 60 people participate each year, and organizers say that the mustaches are meant to serve as a conversation starter and encourage people to donate to through the group’s website, www.m4kli.com. Participants receive buttons and T-shirts that read “Ask me about my mustache” and a donation website is set up for them when they register. The group’s next “check point” will be held at Maple Lanes in Rockville Centre on Oct. 16.

“We’re having a good time and raising money for a good cause all at once,” Leis said. “All the money we raise will be donated to MSK Kids, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s pediatric program. This fund helps families who are having trouble paying for their children’s cancer treatment.”

Leis added that in 2016, MSK Kids also established a fund specifically for Mustaches for Kids.

“The Mustaches for Kids Fund was created at MSK Kids to benefit various patient support programs in the Department of Pediatrics that are in need of additional funding,” he said. “Specifically, the fund will help build and grow the Teen and Young Adult Program, which addresses the emotional needs of patients between the ages of 16 and 28.”

The fund also helps provide vital non-medical support services for families who are struggling with the emotional, financial and logistical challenges following a childhood cancer diagnosis, Leis said.

“Having to seek out and pay for hotels, meals, parking, and sibling childcare adds strain and anxiety,” he said. “Removing these complexities enables parents to focus on their most important task: supporting and healing their child.”

The month-long event wraps with the ’Stache Bash on Nov. 16, the group’s fundraising gala where awards are given out. Tickets are available at all Mustaches for Kids checkpoints or by contacting Leis at vinnyleis@gmail.com.

Participants also visit children and their families at Sloan-Kettering in November, where they share games and activities with the kids, including a mobile bowling alley courtesy of Maple Lanes. 

“Growers spend part of the day at the hospital playing different board games and activities, doing numerous mustache inspired arts and crafts projects,” Leis said. “Our goal for the day is simple — let kids just keep on being kids.”