EDITOR’S NOTE: This event has been postponed due to COVID-19.
On Saturday, March 14, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., the public is invited to enjoy a day of community fun for a great cause when the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Western Palm Beach County returns to the South Florida Fairgrounds.
If you are wondering where you can take the kids for a fun, low-cost outing featuring legions of dedicated survivors, caregivers and volunteers walking, running and even dancing around the relay course, look no further than the Relay for Life, a fundraising event like no other.
The public is invited to attend the spectacle, which will feature face-painting, bounce houses and tons of other activities, in addition to its more serious mission of raising money to support the various local programs of the American Cancer Society.
And if you haven’t signed up to take part in the actual relay, it’s not too late to join a team or start your own.
The event will open at 2 p.m. with a moving ceremony recognizing approximately 150 survivors and their caregivers. After the opening ribbon is cut, they will take the first celebratory lap while teams and the public line the track, supporting them with cheers and applause. They begin the walk silently in observance of the sacrifices, strength and courage it takes to battle cancer, then retire to the Survivors’ Tent for dinner as the other 65 teams take the field.
After securing pledges from family, friends and co-workers, an expected several thousand team members from Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee, The Acreage and beyond will “pass the baton” as they do laps for eight hours straight. When not walking the course, participants will join the public to check out the raffles and other fun activities taking place at each team’s “home base” tent as they compete to amass the largest total donations for the day.
Each team is required to have a representative walking the track at all times but, for those not taking their turn walking, there’s plenty of socializing, music, school performances and other entertainment, as well as the fun of visiting other teams’ tents. Some teams sell craft items at their tents, mini massages or food.
“The theme of this year’s event is ‘Holidays,’ so my team is doing Mardi Gras,” said Lisa Noel, the American Cancer Society’s community development manager for the western communities. “Jojo’s Raw Bar & Grill is giving us a big pan of New Orleans barbecue shrimp over rice, and we’ll be selling king cake as well. Other teams will be selling hotdogs, meatball subs, doughnuts, cotton candy, cookies and lots of desserts. Some teams do games.”
A silent auction of items donated by each team will run from 2 to 7:30 p.m. Between 3 and 4 p.m., teams who paid a $20 entry fee will compete in a chili cookoff, and the winning team will receive all the donations to add to their team’s donation total. A culinary panel comprised of local celebrities will determine the winner at 4:15 p.m.
A box car race, in which participants don a decorated box before competing in a foot race, brings community awareness to the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program, in which volunteers drive patients to and from treatment appointments.
“Each participating team makes a car with two seats to, hypothetically, take a patient to Wellington Regional Medical Center,” Noel said. “Our survivors will judge the creativity of the cars, and the winner of the race gets spirit points and prizes. The Village of Wellington usually enters a car, as does WRMC, together with individuals and families. They take it very seriously.”
With butterfly gardens set up all around, a butterfly release will be held at 5 p.m. to honor those who are or have fought cancer while a butterfly poem is read. At 8 p.m., a lip-synching contest will be held with prizes for the winners.
At 9 p.m., a somber luminaria lighting will offer comfort and hope, with each light signifying a life lost to cancer, a survivor or someone still fighting.
The closing ceremony will switch gears to celebrate current accomplishments and the American Cancer Society’s commitment to the work that still needs to be done.
“Last year, the teams raised $135,000, which is about the same as the previous year, and about what I would expect for this year,” Noel said. “Obviously, we’d love to raise more.”
In addition to the Road to Recovery program, the American Cancer Society provides hope lodges and sometimes even hotel lodging for those who need to travel outside their immediate area for treatment. The Tender, Love & Care initiative helps provide wigs, prosthetic bras, head wraps and more, and there’s a toll-free number that offers assistance and support around the clock.
“If a patient calls (800) 227-2345 with any kind of need, we can help,” Noel said. “We have insurance specialists, cancer specialists, therapists, people to help them navigate our programs, people to help them find a local doctor who takes their insurance, people to tell them if there are any grants available. And sometimes callers just want someone to talk to.”
The Relay for Life was founded in 1985 by Dr. Gordon Klatt of Tacoma, Wash., who walked a track for 24 hours. In the following years, the program grew to encompass 5,000 such events around the world.
For more information on joining the relay as a participant, survivor or caregiver, call Noel at (561) 614-2835 or visit www.relayforlife.org/westernpbfl.
“You can have a team of one,” Noel said. “But we find that 10 is a better number. You’re not alone, and it’s nice to have others to help you fundraise.”