DJ Blankenship and his pink beard

DJ Blankenship is sporting a pink beard as part of his community fundraising campaign in October, which is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (submitted photo)

DJ Blankenship has had a beard for years, but it seems everyone is taking a second look these days. He’s happy about that.

The Yakima County road maintenance worker’s long, grayish-white beard is pink on purpose. His wife, Renee, spray-paints it every morning to draw attention to their efforts to raise funds in October as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“When I’m in my dump truck or sweeper, ladies drive by and give me a thumbs-up,” DJ said Wednesday as the Yakima couple stood outside the ‘Ohana Mammography Center at 1515 W. Yakima Ave. He sported a shockingly bright T-shirt that said “Real Men Wear Pink” with his jeans, work boots and ball cap.

“I do get a lot of people pointing their fingers at me,” he added. “It makes a guy feel good.”

The Blankenships joined a small group that included Erin Black, CEO of The Memorial Foundation. They and DJ’s co-workers, along with their family and friends, have collectively raised about $6,000 in the past three years for the nonprofit’s ‘Ohana mammography fund.

It provides financial aid to patients who need additional breast imaging or biopsies when initial tests indicate more tests are necessary. The added cost, even with insurance, can be a significant barrier to care. Patients in need apply through ‘Ohana. The foundation estimates $20,000 will be needed to cover costs for patients whose insurance will not cover these procedures in 2022.

On Wednesday, DJ announced his challenge to the community by launching his annual ”Save it or Shave it” fundraising campaign. When making a donation, people can comment if DJ should shave or save his pink beard. If “shave it” wins, off it goes Nov. 1. If “save it” wins, DJ will save his beard until October 2022.

“I’m here to raise money. If I have to shave it,” Blankenship said he will, prompting cheers.

Other groups raising money for the mammography fund include the Yakima Valley Quilters’ Guild — which started the fund in 2003 — Famous Dave’s BBQ, the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office and the Yakima Police Department. Both law enforcement agencies are selling special pink department patches during regular business hours for $10 apiece, with all money raised going toward the mammography fund.

Black also mentioned other local fundraising efforts, including a Borton and Sons Inc. employee giving campaign and the Human Bean coffee stand, which will donate 100% of food and drink purchases on Oct. 22.

Community fundraisers led by individuals, groups or businesses make a big difference for the foundation, Black said, and those for the mammography fund can be life-saving.

“We know that the sooner they find (breast cancer), the better the outcome,” she said.

DJ began raising funds for breast cancer three years ago as a dare from his coworkers. He dyed his beard pink to honor an employee’s sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer. DJ spent $75 to dye it, but the color lasted only a few days. That’s when he and Renee decided daily spray-painting was cheaper and better.

The paint makes his beard a bit stiff, but DJ enjoys the attention for a good cause. After standing apart from the group outside, he laughed as he donned a mask for a photo with everyone standing closer together.

“How will they know it’s me?” he said.

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.

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