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'Beards for Books' challenge helps children receive free books

19 West Michigan men are taking part in a unique fundraiser, hosted by United Way of the Lakeshore.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — As we close out National Reading Month, 13 ON YOUR SIDE is highlighting a local group that’s done a lot for literacy in recent weeks. 19 men from across the area have been taking part in the Beards for Books challenge put on by United Way of the Lakeshore. 

They’ve been growing out their facial hair in support of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program, an initiative that ensures local children have access to free, age-appropriate books through the age of 5.

United Way of the Lakeshore has an initiative to supply books for kids zero to five, and at no cost. All the parents have to do is sign up, and the books come to the kids every month for free. So, we take that as an initiative to improve literacy in the county, and reading starts at an early age,” said campaign chair Jack Russell. “Those of us who don't normally wear beards, when people start looking at you, and they go ‘did you forget to shave today?’ It gives you an opportunity to at least discuss with people why you're doing it and the cause. So, it's a way to improve awareness for the fundraiser and gives us a chance to talk about it.”

He said the Beards for Books challenge is fairly new, but it continues to become more popular every year.

“It started in 2021 by one of our former United Way board chairs as a way to raise awareness for reading,” Russell said. “He was an educator, superintendent of schools in the county. So, it's just continued on from there, and we have a sponsor who matches up to $35,000 of all the money we raise. So, if we raise $35,000, United Way of the Lakeshore has $70,000 to give to that cause.”

The fundraiser culminates with a Shave Off event on Friday, March 31 at the Brewer’s Lounge at Pigeon Hill. 13 ON YOUR SIDE’s bearded morning anchor Jay Plyburn will be emceeing the event.

“The festivities begin at 5:30,” Russell said. “The crew from downtown Muskegon will actually perform the shave offs for free. It's kind of fun because they'll trim a mustache. If a guy has a big beard, they might shave it and give him a Fu Manchu for a while. Everybody can take pictures. Or just a big, long goatee with everything else gone. So, it's a lot of fun to watch.”

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