MERKEL, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The Fade Cafe & Barber Shop in Merkel is offering free back-to-school haircuts for Big Country students. Owner Phil Emmerson says he believes every kid should look and feel their best on the first day back, and he knows a haircut isn’t always in the budget.

“I’ve been at this for almost 30 years, and I already know, my experience, how much just one little haircut can make a difference,” Emmerson said.

Emmerson shows student his new haircut

Emmerson partnered with Operation Brown Bag, a charity organization that will be set up at the shop this Friday and Saturday. At that time, he said they will be offering free backpacks and school supplies for students who stop by.

The free haircuts began Tuesday, costs covered by local donation. Emmerson told KTAB/KRBC the Merkel community made a quick and noted response. Residents donated nearly $1,000 in just a few days, Emmerson said.

“We’ve already gotten probably about $800 or $900 donated so far towards haircuts,” shared Emmerson. “It’s almost become like a competition of who can donate the most.”

The Fade Cafe & Barber Shop’s owner, Phil Emmerson

Much to the barber shop’s delight, donations haven’t stopped pouring in. Emmerson said they intend to put every dollar towards its intended use, even if they go beyond the first day of school.

“However long this takes to spend the money, we’ll use it all the way through the whole month or two, whatever it takes,” Emmerson promised.

Merkel parents like Juan Salazar, father of three, voiced their gratitude toward Emmerson and Operation Brown Bag, thankful that haircuts and supplies are one less thing they have to squeeze into a tight budget.

“It’s great. Now I can focus on buying other stuff that the kids might need. After this, we’re gonna go buy some school shoes, school clothes, so that helps out a lot,” beamed Salazar.

It’s a lot of work to sign on for, but well worth the work. Emmerson said seeing another student walking into school with a smile and a little bit of confidence makes the long hours worth every minute.

“I’ve watched kids come out of their shell just from a haircut. From not even having a social life in school and high school, even, and by the end of the year, becoming student body president,” Emmerson added. “Makes my heart good… I feel good when I give back to the community and make people happy, you know?”

The shop is located at 117 Kent Street in Merkel. Operation Brown Bag will be there Friday and Saturday with supplies ready for any family that needs them.