For low-income Oakland school children, arriving in style on the first day of school isn’t easy. But at E Cuts on the corner of Telegraph and 47th Avenue, barbers gave neighborhood kids a literal head start.
The Sunday event at the Temescal salon was one of a cluster of weekend programs offering free haircuts and back-to-school supplies.
“The kids need to feel supported on their first day of class, said Eboni Hoofe, the owner of E Cuts on Telegraph and the mother of two daughters raised with her husband Chris. “We’ve hit some tough times in Oakland,” said the 48-year-old businesswoman. “I’m lucky that my family is finally in a position where we could give back, even if it’s only once a year.”
For some parents, getting their kids a trim at no charge freed up family funds for other things, like new footwear.
“My son needs a haircut twelve months of the year,” said N’sombi Hasan. “The free one this month eased my budget. I was able to buy him some shoes.” Jared Hasan showed off his new Spiderman backpack and spiffy black shoes with brightly colored accents.
Nearly three out of 10 children in Oakland are living in poverty, more than a 50 percent increase from just three years ago, according to 2010 U.S. Census statistics. The city has the highest percentage of children living in poverty in the Bay Area.
Growing numbers of U.S. families are a paycheck away from economic catastrophe, according to a 2011 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Nationwide, 20 percent of children now live in poverty, according to the foundation’s Kids Count study data center. And close to half – about 31 million – live in a household that earns $43,500 or less.
Oakland families waited for the 11 a.m. opening of the shop, which drew neighbors with festive black and white balloons and the aroma of hot dogs.
“I want people to know who I am and I want to know who they are,” said Andre Williams, 37, a barber who grew up in East Oakland. “It’s about knowing your neighbors so we can rely on each other.” Free refreshments and an iPod raffle sweetened the lure of the giveaway.
By 2 p.m., with two hours yet to go, 22 freshly styled cuts were done and families had claimed half the backpacks, many donated by the shop’s customers. “Our clients are really supportive of our project,” Hoofe said.
The tense shoulders of a mother waiting for her son eased. Sharlon Williams expressed concern because her son is being transferred from Emerson Elementary, a Temescal school he attended since pre-school, to a third grade classroom at Fruitvale Elementary.
But 8-year-old Dallas was excited when barber Williams gave him a hand-held mirror to examine his new do. He then jumped up to appraise his reflection in a full-length mirror.
A little man with a Mohawk and tribal sideburns met his gaze. “I’m looking pretty good,” he said admiringly. “I also like my backpack: black with checkers and peace signs in all colors.”