Relay for Life adapts to the COVID-19 pandemic

Relay for Life adapts to the COVID-19 pandemicBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer “We want to encourage the community to come out and support Relay for Life on the evening of October 2,” says Jamie Powell, a community volunteer who is helping to plan the event. This year the custom decorated luminarias dedicated to honor someone who fought their battle and survived or in memory of someone who lost their battle with cancer will be set up in Freedom Park from 8 until 9 pm. Powell stresses, “You don’t want to miss that. The Luminaria Ceremony is the most moving and impactful part of the event. It is the time that we all come together for that same common purpose: to remember and honor our loved ones. It is a huge impact to come all together for this.”

The event organizers hope to return to their regular format in 2022. Traditionally the event was held at Cerro Coso with participating teams camping and setting up booths during a 24-hour time frame. The pandemic changed all that. Last year the event was a drive-thru to see the luminarias. “This year we are expanding to be able to walk through and see the luminarias. We are very excited.”

Folks can purchase a luminaria in advance for $10 on the website, relayforlife.org/ridgecrestca or contact the volunteers who are coordinating the luminarias: Ashley Randolph, Ashley.g.randolph@gmail.com 951-956-7028 or Cathey Mattox, Jcoline@dslextreme.com 760-384-3214. You will receive a plain white paper bag that you can add drawings, photos, or anything that brings to mind your loved one or you can request that it be decorated for you. After you return the bag it will be weighted, a battery operated candle will be put inside of it, and it will be placed in alphabetical order as part of a large oval shape at Freedom Park.

The Luminaria Ceremony is part two of the day’s events. There will be a Facebook live stream at 11 am featuring many community members, teams, and volunteers.

Relay for Life is an important fundraising effort for the American Cancer Society (ACS). “Our funds go to research and the programs and services that the ACS offers. Over the last two years during COVID we lost $200 million in fundraising since we can’t have events like this. Any time we don’t have funds coming in our research programs or individual researchers that we have in place can’t be funded.” Funds raised are distributed throughout ACS programs. “We have been a community who has had active Road to Recovery and different support groups that have received funds from ACS and benefited from the fundraising.

Typically we have a few thousand people that participate throughout the entire event. We have anywhere from 25 to 30 teams. And each team ranges from 10-20 individuals per team. Our goal this year is $40,000. That is substantially less than we have previously seen but with all of the hurdles we are facing with COVID, we feel confident that our teams can rally together and obtain that fundraising amount.”

There are several ways to contribute or participate. “Each team can have their own fundraisers. We encourage each participant to do their own fundraising, asking friends and family to donate to their personal fundraising goal. Every person who registers on the website as a participant gets their own fundraising dashboard. They can use that to send out emails, create a Facebook fundraiser. All of that connects to our event as a whole.

It is different than a walk-a-thon, no one is getting donations based on laps or anything. It is just flat donations, whatever someone chooses to give. We do recognize individual and team top donors at the end. There are also sponsorship opportunities for local businesses or individuals.” Sponsorships are being coordinated by Debbie Brickey at 760-608-3954 or ole9toes.debby@gmail.com.

Powell and her family have been active volunteers since the first local Relay for Life in 1999 when Powell was still in high school. She and her mother, Brickey, were invited to join a team because the team wanted a cancer survivor to walk with them. They haven’t missed a year. “Our team is Ole 9 Toes, after my mom. My mom had melanoma and had to have her big toe amputated.

Our team is named Ole 9 Toes because of her cancer journey. She will tell everyone that humor and laughter is what got her through her journey. Our team started with family and has grown over the years to include friends and co-workers. Relay becomes one big family when we are all out there. We look forward to being able to do that all together every single year. It is definitely a community in itself.”

Laura Austin photo: Volunteer organizer, Jamie Powell, encourages participation in this community event.

Story First Published: 2021-09-24