Eight years after the Oceanside community raised $118,000 for its last Relay For Life event in 2009, schools, community groups and residents are on the homestretch of a final push to break that mark as the June 3 fundraiser quickly approaches.
Each year, more than 5,000 Relay for Life events — organized by the American Cancer Society, in conjunction with the local communities — take place in over 20 countries, and benefit initiatives to fight cancer. After nearly a decade, Oceanside residents are banding together to bring the occasion back to the community.
“There’s always been a strong community interest in the event, however in order to kind of balance the requests from everybody, it’s always been something that floats around,” said Patrick Turk, the Oceanside School District’s student projects coordinator. “It was time for us to bring it back and remind the community how awesome they are and how awesome we can be when we pull together.”
Plans for the event date back to last May, Turk said, as the community, specifically the school district, analyzed how they could repeat the success of the 2009 relay, and have worked toward that for months. Having raised more than $35,000 as of last week, Turk said the community is on track to reach their goal of $125,000 as they expect the bulk of donations to come in online during the coming weeks, as well as at the event itself.
Proceeds from certain district events, such as the faculty volleyball tournament and Battle of the Bands — both on May 12 — as well as Sports Night in March went toward Relay For Life. The schools have also been selling hats and shirts over the last couple months, and have had “Purple Fridays,” during which students and staff are encouraged to wear the gear in order to bring awareness to the upcoming relay.
The Cancer Awareness Club at OHS has been driving the schools’ participation in the event by helping to sell the apparel and urging the elementary and middle schools to get involved as well.
Senior Jason Denrich, the group’s president, and Vice President Jessica Huplosky said their families have been affected by cancer, which motivates them to help make this event a success.
“Cancer is very prominent in my life, whether it’s with my grandma, my great aunt, my grandpa,” Denrich said. He added of the Cancer Awareness Club: “… It was something to completely indulge myself in and do absolutely anything I can to help prevent anyone else from hearing that [their] child, [or their] family member has cancer.”
But reaching a lofty goal takes a village, or, in this case, a hamlet. “That obviously is not going to be something done by the school alone,” Turk said of raising $125,000.
Jeanine Donohue, a Relay For Life community manager, said she began working with the school district last year to iron out the logistics of the large event, and hosted a gathering at the Oceanside Library last month to gauge interest from groups outside the schools. About two-dozen leaders turned out, she said, including representatives from the fire and sanitation departments, Oceanside Kiwanis and various local religious groups.
“Unfortunately, everyone’s been affected by cancer, and Relay For Life is more than just fundraising,” Donohue said. “It’s also a support and healing event, so when we were able to talk to these people about that, they kind of couldn’t resist getting involved…”
Though some relays are 12- or 24-hour affairs, Oceanside’s event will run from 6 p.m. until midnight at the high school track. It will feature a Survivors Lap, during which those who have beaten cancer make their way around the track, as well as a Caregivers Lap for those who have stood beside their friends and loved ones during the fight against the disease.
Relay For Life’s traditional Luminaria Ceremony, which includes illuminating paper lanterns and dedicating them to those who have been diagnosed, is scheduled for 9 p.m. A free dinner for survivors will take place prior to the event at 5 p.m., and Donohue said 30 people have already registered for the meal. A closing celebratory ceremony will last until midnight.
“I haven’t quite experienced a community like Oceanside yet, where everyone kind of knows everyone, they encourage each other to be a part of it, they’re all coming together for a good thing and they all have their reasons to relay,” Donohue said.
More than 60 teams are expected to attend, which could result in a larger crowd than the school’s average homecoming football game, Turk said. “Our potential is off the growth chart when we do something like this.” He added that simply planning Relay for Life has made him more aware of the people around him, and their stories, and he hopes the event will do that for others too.
“The best part about this is that a lot of times people don’t stop and really have the opportunity to ask, ‘How are you doing?’ and take the time to listen,” Turk said. “This gives us an opportunity to pause; pause life, pause the phone, pause everything and kind of just hear and find out what’s going on with people.”