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Kathleen Farrington woke up Sunday morning overwhelmed by life’s challenges. Unemployed, with no prospects after months beating the pavement, she was worried about money and the probability she would have nothing to give her 16-year-old son for Christmas.

But a new haircut and several shopping bags full of clothing, food and toiletries, compliments of a team of volunteers with the North Bay Kiwanis Club, turned her attitude around.

“I’m leaving feeling like there’s hope. This is the epitome of community,” the 58-yearold Santa Rosa woman said. She was beaming after getting 6 inches lopped off her hair, and filling her bags with sweatshirts and shirts for her son, toys for her grandson and lots of shampoo, soap and other personal care items that often are low priorities of the poor.

She was among a steady stream of people, from the homeless to those experiencing economic hardship after October’s firestorm, who showed up Sunday at the parking lot of Santa Rosa’s Arlene Francis Center near Railroad Square for a holiday makeover.

Kiwanis member and professional stylist Danika O’Leary, marshaled an army of two dozen barbers and hairdressers, to snip and shave. Anyone who showed up was given a seat in the outdoor salon free of charge, no questions asked.

“Feeling good about yourself is the first step in changing somebody’s life,” said O’Leary, who for years has made a personal mission of giving haircuts to Santa Rosa’s homeless, financing the effort with tips earned as a hairdresser.

Ronda Black, a masseuse, offered massages.

“It can give you a piece of yourself back,” she said of the experience of getting a little TLC.

Other volunteers brought new toys, knitted caps, wool socks and scarves, and nonperishable food, and packed personal care items in plastic bags to give away.

Toby Welsh, a district manager for Western Exterminator in Sacramento, arrived with a truckload of toys, and his colleague Vivian Straus, gathered $1,300 in donations from her co-workers in the Novato office to buy personal care items for the event.

Jeff Quarles was grateful for a haircut and a few new shirts, He’s been living with friends after his Santa Rosa apartment suffered severe water damage during the October fires. After that, he said the landlord raised the rent $600 a month, a hike he couldn’t afford at a time when he is between jobs and recovering from foot surgery and an infection. He’s now staying with friends in Petaluma.

“Everything happened at once. This is very helpful,” he said. “Times have been tough for me.”

Kevin Brazelton’s eyes teared as Michael Imboden, a native Santa Rosan who works for The District Barbers in San Francisco’s South of Market district, smoothed his buzz and trimmed his beard. The grooming came just in time for the 56-year-old man, who has been living in his van. He and his wife Erica, after six months looking for work and services in San Francisco, gave up and drove north Thursday to Santa Rosa. By Friday, Brazelton had landed a job doing laundry for a linen supply company. He starts work Monday with a fresh look.

He was moved by the generosity and kindness he’s experienced after three days in Santa Rosa.

“I’m from Montana. Of all the places I’ve been and lived, this is most like my hometown,” he said. “My new home.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5204. On Twitter @megmcconahey.

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