| Jun 07, 2007


Feature Article - June 7, 2007

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Feature Article - June 7, 2007

Not just a fundraiser: the Relay for Life in Parham

by Jeff Green

Claire Macfarlane said she was “flabbergasted” by the success of the Relay For Life event held at the Parham Fair grounds last weekend.

It was Macfarlane who brought the Relay for Life to the Central and North Frontenac Chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society, not knowing exactly how to pull off such a large scale event in a rural setting where there is no population centre to draw from.

“We could not have had a better group of volunteers,” Macfarlane said when contacted by the News this Monday, two days after the event had ended. “When they said they were going to do something, they just did it. No one else had to worry about it.”

The sheer numbers involved in the event are certainly impressive. A team of over 50 volunteers were recruited; about 320 participants spent the night at the relay (there were 32 teams averaging 10 people per team); six different musical groups showed up to perform; and in excess of $63,000 was raised for the Cancer Society.

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All of this came from a community of 6,569 people spread over the two townships. The Cancer Society would be awash in money if they had attained the same ratios in some of the urban centres where Relay for Life events are well established.

For the participants, and for the volunteers, many of whom were working for weeks in advance organising the event before working up to 24 hours on the relay itself, there was much more to the Relay for Life than raising money.

The ubiquitous nature of the disease itself is part of the reason for this. The Relay for Life begins with a Survivors’ Walk. The reality of the struggle against cancer, the toll the disease takes on those who are facing it is brought home, and the fact that the Survivors are all friends and neighbours that the participants in the relay know well, brought the meaning of the evening home for everyone.

A couple of hours later, as the sun was going down on the fair grounds, the luminaries were lit. The luminaries are candles encased in paper bags, but each bag is purchased, for a nominal fee, in honour of a cancer survivor or someone who has died from the disease. A lone piper leads the walkers around the track, passing each luminary along the way. Unlike the luminarias that burn on events such as Christmas Eve, the candles at the Relay for Life burn all night, lighting up the track and the name written on the bags. As people took their turns walking around the track throughout the night, they had a chance to glance over as they walked, to see the names of loved ones, of people they once knew but lost track of, or of those they never knew personally but know their son or daughter.

Aside from the poignant aspects of the relay that was exemplified by the Survivors’ Walk and the luminaries, the bulk of the evening and night was spent visiting, eating, laughing, and listening to music. With campsites set up all around the track for the various teams, the atmosphere was that of an overnight community picnic, with team members dressed up especially for the occasion.

All of the organisation in the world would have gone for naught if the weather hadn’t co-operated. The situation looked quite dire in the late afternoon, as thunder, lightning and a deluge of rain came down just hours before the scheduled start time of the relay at 7 pm. Ominously, as the rain poured down, fire trucks rushed out of the adjacent fire hall, sirens blazing, en route to a house fire at the Bush residence near Tichborne, the victim of a lightning strike.

Skies cleared and volunteers had just enough time to dry the stage and sound system before the start of the event.

Even though the forecast called for more rain throughout the night, only a couple of light showers materialised, not enough to dampen any of the enthusiastic participants.

“Everyone had a really good time,” Claire Macfarlane recalls, “and people have already been talking to me about next year.”

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