Local police grow beards to help sick kids

MIDDLEBURY — Deer season in Vermont means diligently scanning the fields for game, getting up before sunrise and playing card games at camp.
And for many guys, it means growing beards — a nasty beard that itches until scissors and a razor deliver final relief when the shooting ends.
Local police officers have been able to get into all of the deer season traditions except the beards, due to some pretty strict grooming standards. But that’s going to change this year, and the most direct beneficiaries will be young cancer patients and their families.
It’s called the “Deer Camp Beards for Kids with Cancer” program. Devised by Middlebury Police Officer Darrin Hinterneder, the new program allows participating officers to ditch their razors until the end of muzzleloader deer season (Dec. 11), so long as they donate at least $30 to Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a South Hero-based camp that provides extraordinary experiences for children with cancer and their families.
Camp Ta-Kum-Ta has been a favorite charity among Vermont law enforcement officials, but participants looking for a grooming gimmick have most often shaved their heads for financial pledges. This has less impact for cops, though, because, as Hinterneder and Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley noted, the officers’ omnipresent caps hide the evidence of participants’ fund-raising payoff.
But growing beards, Hinterneder and Hanley reasoned, will provide some fun as well as visual evidence of the individual’s support of cancer fighting programs.
The goal is to “grow awareness by embracing our hair, which many cancer patients lose, and to donate the money one would typically spend on grooming for education on cancer prevention, saving lives, and aiding those fighting the battle,” Hanley said.
“The whole idea is to get the community on board and see that we’re like everyone else,” Hinterneder said on Tuesday, sporting a thriving layer of salt-and-pepper steel wool on his face.
As of Tuesday, nine Middlebury officers had agreed to participate in “Deer Camp Beards for Kids with Cancer.” So area residents should not be surprised if they notice some officers on patrol that look kind of scruffy.
Middlebury police Det. Kristine Bowdish joked that she has tried to get a beard going, but she will continue to contribute to charities in other ways. She has been a key player in the department’s annual efforts to get donations of holiday toys for kids, and to organize a charity hockey game to raise funds to battle breast cancer.
Middlebury police have encouraged other local law enforcement agencies to join the “beard brigade.” The Bristol and Vergennes police departments have both accepted the challenge.
Longtime Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs said this will be the first time in more than 30 years that he will grow facial hair while in uniform. He previously shaved his head for Camp Ta-Kum-Ta.
“I’m personally asking — in fact challenging — residents to support this worthwhile effort by making a donation,” Gibbs said. Anyone wishing to sponsor or support a Bristol police officer in this effort can do so by dropping off a donation for Camp Ta-Kum-Ta at the police headquarters or the Bristol town offices, or call police and they’ll pick it up at your (Bristol) house.
Hanley confessed he got some quizzical looks from folks who gazed upon the uncustomary growth on his face as he voted in Middlebury on Tuesday.
He’s going to have to get used to it himself.
“We’ll definitely have a picture taken with all of us,” he said of the Dec. 11 photo op.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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