On Saturday, Port Washington residents will pack up tents and tie up their sneakers when fundraising walk-a-thon Relay for Life kicks off at the Sousa Elementary School. So far, more than 70 teams and 500 people have registered to participate.
The event, where teams or individuals walk around a track through the night to raise money for the American Cancer Society, has already raised $73,000 through online pledges. But event-day sales of raffle tickets and paper lanterns, lit in memory of those who died of cancer, are expected to bump up that total. The Port Washington relay has raised more than $1 million over the past eight years.
"This is such a community event," said event co-chair Lee Anne Vetrone-Timothy. "It spans local businesses, the school district, the police and fire department – which has over 50 members participating. It has the Girls Scouts, survivors and Schreiber students."
Last year, more than half of all participants were Schreiber High School students, and the leading individual fundraiser was student Jordan Sutton. This year, Sutton once again leads the individual fundraising totals with $9,434, bringing the total dollars he's raised over four years to $50,000.
The event kicks off with the opening of the Kiddie Corner at 5:30 p.m. and runs through the night, concluding with a 7 a.m. breakfast. Highlights include a 5:30 p.m. Survivor/Caregiver dinner in the Sousa cafeteria that is free to the public, a 7 p.m. opening ceremony with the Survivors Lap and the luminaria lighting at 9 p.m. While many participants pitch tents and walk through the night, event organizers stress that sleeping out or pulling an all-nighter isn't required.
"Participate in any way you can. You can listen to speeches, support survivors as they do the first lap, you can buy luminarias until 10 p.m. You don't have to sleep over," said Vetrone-Timothy, who organized the event with co-chair Nora Johnson.
Relay for Life is the ACS's biggest annual fundraiser, organized in many communities by a cadre of volunteers. Members of the Port Washington Volunteer Fire Department will grill hot dogs and hamburgers for late-night snacks. Girl Scout troops across town decorated inspirational posters and will help staff the dinner. And more than 100 raffle baskets with donated items will be up for grabs. Set-up, security and clean-up are also handled by volunteers.
Using volunteer labor helps keep event overhead low, allowing 90 cents out of every $1 raised by Relay to go directly to cancer research and services. On Long Island, ACS funds programs such as "Look Good, Feel Better," cosmetic services for women grappling with hair and eyebrow loss; "Road to Recovery," patient transportation to treatments; and "Hope Lodge," housing for patients and caregivers near treatment facilities.
"Last year I lost two friends to cancer," said first-time participant Michele Hyde. "And I thought, 'I can't take this anymore.'" Hyde and her fundraising teammates dubbed themselves the M&Ms, short for Moms & Miracles. "I'm hoping for our kids that the miracle of a cure will happen in our lifetime," said Hyde, who planned to walk with her four children, aged five years old to 12 years old.