You didn’t need a passport to get into the Holy Family Academy gym on Jan. 23, but it helped, as organizers kicked off a new year of fundraising for a problem called Relay For Life, which works towards an overnight event on June 7 and 8 to raise funds to fight cancer.
Relay For Life kicked off its new year at the event, vowing to raise even more money this year than it did in 2012.
With 65 teams and about 377 participants, Bayonne had one of the largest Relay events in the region last year. The campaign in the city raised $110,000 towards cancer research. This year organizers are looking to raise $115,000.
“The City of Bayonne has been incredibly supportive of the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life,” said Chrissy Andrascik, director of Special Events for the American Cancer Society. “In fact, in 2011 and 2012, [Bayonne] raised $110,000 each time. And that is a lot of money.”
As she spoke before the few dozen people who came to Holy Family, Andrascik challenged them to do more.
“We can’t stop there,” she said. “I am personally challenging you to make this the best year ever for Bayonne. Let’s hope big, let’s dream big and let’s Relay big. Why? Because the people in Bayonne, the people in Hudson County, and the people even beyond that need us to. They need this to be our best year ever so we can continue to fund programs and services that are getting them through their cancer journey. Relay For Life of Bayonne, I know you have it in you. So instead of sitting here wondering why, tell me why not?”
Fundraisers, dine-outs, and group promotions help
While the event is run by the American Cancer Society, each locality has its own committee that works on various aspects of the event. Bayonne, which originally held the event at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, began its own Relay For Life about five years ago.
Relay groups traditional gather in a number of communities in Hudson County, including Union City, Bayonne, Hoboken, Jersey City and Secaucus.
Gale Godesky said this year teams will be allowed to double up their members from 15 to 30.
“We’re hoping to get 80 to 90 teams this year,” she said. The event this year at HFA was held in honor of Terri Coleman, a survivor and someone deeply involved in events in the past.
HFA’s gathering, held months ahead of the overnight relay on June 7, is one of the first public events that allows teams to organize. Those who came to the gym were treated to information about cancer research, the Relay and how to get involved, and a sampling of food from various countries.
Anyone can organize a team of walkers, who then go out and raise money through a variety of means, sometimes holding dine-around events with local eateries. They make signs for sponsors, sell Luminaria bags, and collect donations through the web site in support of a particular team.
Relay For Life is about more than just fundraising. It is a moment when participants, survivors and caregivers gather to remember loved ones lost to cancer and honor those battling the disease through Luminaria bags.
Teams take turns doing laps, but there must be one member from each team on the track at any given time during the 12-hour relay event. While team members off the field can sleep in the tents, most don’t. There is a lot of fundraising at the event as well.
As participants walk the track lined with Luminaria bags in reflection, a caregiver who has lost a loved one may find comfort from a fellow caregiver who has faced a similar loss. Meanwhile, a survivor may gain hope and strength from others who have followed the same journey and survived. All resolve to keep fighting to save more lives so no more Luminaria bags bear the names of those lost to the disease.
“We’re hoping to get 80 to 90 teams this year.” – Gale Godesky
The relay starts with a Survivors’ Lap, during which those who have survived the struggle circle the track together to help everyone celebrate what has been achieved against cancer. Then there is the Fight Back Ceremony, where people who have made a personal commitment to save lives by taking up the fight against cancer walk or run a lap. Commitments could be something as simple as getting a screening test or quitting smoking. Then there is a caregiver lap, and then the teams begin their laps.
Holy Family Academy plays a large role in the annual event, although many of the local schools send representatives. There are also teams that come in from Jersey City.
Usually teams are organized around someone that has been stricken or has passed away as a result of cancer.
Joanne Baran is the survivor committee person. She is also a survivor of breast cancer, for which she was treated nearly eight years ago. Hudson County, Baran said, has a high rate of cancer, noting that 47 people are diagnosed with cancer every week in Hudson County, and 18 die each week.
Cindy Bizukiewcz, the mission and advocacy chair, said that more than one million people nationwide are diagnosed with cancer annually. While people struggle to find a cure, the mission is also to try to make people suffering from cancer look good and feel better, incorporating things such as wigs and makeup.
Raeann Hemple and Nora Elliot, co-chairs along with Diane Lesniak, are regularly involved in the yearly event.
Board of Education member Nina Dobkin said this is her first year involved, but she has known people who suffered the disease and wanted to help.
On Feb. 11, team captains will meet again, picking up their kits and learning the basics on how to recruit and register. But fundraising events such as pasta night and bake sales are already scheduled. A bake sale in the Pine Room of St. Henry’s School is scheduled for Feb. 23 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and again on Feb. 24 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information call (201) 858-2380.
One of the big events of the season is the comedy and pasta night on March 22 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Masonic Lodge on Avenue C. For more information, call (201) 360-9709 or (973) 232-2573.