Southold’s Relay for Life campaign kicks off Feb. 16

Greenport Rescue Squad members walk the track during last year's Southold Relay for Life.
RANDEE DADDONA PHOTO | Greenport Rescue Squad members walk the track during last year's Southold Relay for Life.

Now in its sixth year, the Southold Town Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society kicks off its 2011 Carnival of Hope campaign with an organizational meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. in the Mattituck High School auditorium.

Ever since last year’s event, many teams have been seeking sponsors and fundraising for the festive annual all-night rally and walk at Jean Cochran Park in Peconic. Wednesday’s meeting will give new participants a chance to get advice from the veterans.

This year’s event is set for June 4 and 5 and organizers are optimistic it will attract more people and raise more money than ever.

“We haven’t even met for kickoff and we have nine teams registered,” said spokeswoman Melina Angelson. “It’s people doing what they do best and having fun and doing it for cancer,” she added.

The overnight rally will include tributes to cancer survivors and those who have lost their lives to the disease, local rock bands, games at booths manned by participating teams and walks around a memorial track to honor those whose lives have been touched by cancer.

Ms. Angelson said she wanted those who hadn’t participated before to know that the even is upbeat, celebrating survivors of the disease and the advances made thanks to medical research.

Back in 2006, when organizers for the American Cancer Society tried to discourage Southold organizers from launching their own event, separate from one held in Riverhead, a core group held firm and raised $72,493 from sponsors.

In 2009, Southold’s event raised the most ever —  $158,608, In 2010, it took in $157,860, even though many people were hurting financially, Ms. Angelson said. Last year’s relay included 66 teams with 615 registered members, she said, but that number represents only about half of those who actually participated, with many people joining in as guests.

A lot of creativity has gone into fundraising. School groups have held mini-relays. A team from North Fork Community Theatre gave a benefit performance. Musicians for a Cure plans a May 21 fundraising concert at the Southold American Legion Hall. Other groups have held carnivals, both at the relay site and in advance, Ms. Angelson said. The Dream is a Wish team conducts a hair cut-a-thon in Mattituck.

Businesses, fire departments, church groups and Rotary clubs have all had teams at the relay.

Organizers have been able to keep overhead costs down thanks to the generosity of merchants and individuals who contribute food for the survivors’ dinner held at the start of each relay, pizza for a midnight snack, bagels and juice for morning breakfast and talent for the on-stage program that continues through the night.

The aim is to make sure every penny possible goes to cancer research and to helping those who have suffered from the disease. Ms. Angelson estimated that 85 cents of every $1 raised goes directly to the effort, not to administrative costs.

This year, organizers are not only helping the American Cancer Society, but assisting local food pantries. People are being asked to contribute cans of tuna that will be used during the relay to weight down the lighted bags that line the track in memory of those who have lost their lives to cancer. After the event, organizers will distribute the tuna to local food pantries.

“It’s one event, but it’s benefitting others,” Ms. Angelson said.

“Everybody’s got to give back a little,” she said, noting that everyone has family members or friends who have been affected by cancer. “It’s about celebrating people with cancer.”

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