Recession beards for charity, meet a group of men in a growing movement

As the recent recession beard trend has gained traction, chin curtains have become a way for some men to embrace unemployment and express a new-found sense of freedom. However, for one firm, they have also become a sign of community involvement and a way to help a charity survive the recession.

Observing the wave of layoffs across the country, workers at a Massachusetts-based financial services company decided that facial hair might be a great way to show solidarity with their unemployed friends. The company already has a bi-annual mustache contest, in which employees vie for the distinction of best and worst lip locks. The unveiling occurs at the company's yearly formal dinner, and is a much-anticipated occasion.

For one worker, Justin Unton, the transition from mustaches to beards seemed logical, and he suggested to human resources that the company should conduct a recession beard contest to let unemployed financial services workers know that his company felt their pain. In the process, he and his 16 fellow beard growers decided that this was also a good opportunity to raise money for the Make-a-Wish foundation. They set a goal of $1,000, charged a $20 entrance fee, took "before" pictures of their clean-shaven baby faces, and began the race to manly beardiness.

Currently, the contest's coffers are close to $4,000, and Unton hopes to raise much more by the time the contest ends. To that end, he has established a Facebook page where he asks visitors to contribute money in his name. At the same time, a few of his coworkers have also blogged about their hair-raising experiences with the contest. You can see their sites here and here. (EDITOR'S NOTE: If you've got a great recession beard, upload a photo to our Facebook group, and we'll put together a gallery and let you help us select a winner!)

Unton, whose beard is somewhat thin, is often asked when he is going to start growing out his facial hair. Teasing aside, he and the other contestants have noticed that their co-workers are very supportive. The company's human resources department has offered prizes for the biggest beard and the biggest fund raiser, and plans are already afoot for a company-wide party on April 15, the final day of the contest. An in-house band is working up a playlist and it seems likely that the party will provide a nice counterpoint to the misery of tax day.

The company placed a few restrictions on the contest. Beards had to conform to standards laid out in the company dress code, which meant that there could be no "scraggly looking neck beards" and facial hair had to be clean and tidy. This, incidentally, is part of why the company decided to set April 15 as a definite end date. Some contestants, enjoying their new beards, seemed inclined to keep growing them as long as the recession continues. However, with many analysts predicting that it will continue at least through 2010, the company decided that it didn't particularly want to encourage the Grizzly Adams look!
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