Like many events in 2020, the annual Relay For Life was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon-Waterford event, typically held in late spring, could not be hosted in person this year. There were some outside fundraisers by local teams and some online special activities hosted by the parent American Cancer Society organization but no traditional 24-hour Relay that brought teams together in the all day, all night fight against cancer.
This year’s Relay also featured a wrap up ‘drive-thru’ luminaria ceremony in September at the Community United Methodist Church at 1480 Poplar in Oakdale. The lighted luminaria bags, purchased in honor of someone fighting the disease or in memory of someone lost to cancer, lined the driveway at the church. Some driving through stopped to get photos at specific bags; the luminaria traditionally are placed around the track at the Relay site at Oakdale High School and light the way for walkers through the night.
The fundraising total as of late December for Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon-Waterford was just over $24,855 – nearing the $25,000 mark for the 2020 event.
In 2021, ACS officials announced recently, the Relay For Life in this area will merge with two other events – the Modesto Relay and Turlock Relay – to form one large centralized Central Valley Relay For Life. There has been no date set yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the region. There are, however, some online pre-Relay gatherings in the planning stages. Saturday, Jan. 9 is being termed ‘First Lap’ day. That event will kick off five weeks of a registration challenge for Relay, leading up to the observance of World Cancer Day on Thursday, Feb. 4, which will also serve as the global kick-off for the 2021 Relay season.
These will be Facebook Live events; look for additional information as the dates get closer.
“We have experienced layoffs and budget cuts,” said Cathy Kingsbury, ACS Area Lead Volunteer. “We’ve all been impacted by COVID and everybody is hurting from all the hits.”
Part of the solution is to reorganize events and combining Modesto, Turlock and Oakdale was seen as a viable move in this area, which will see fewer ACS resources needed to staff one event as opposed to three.
Kingsbury and ACS Senior Manager for Community Development, Jennifer Baze, agreed that the pandemic “accelerated the need” to change the way some things are done, including putting on the actual Relay events.
“We want to maintain the mission,” Kingsbury added, with that ‘mission’ being raising money for research, advocacy and patient services while also educating the public on the different types of cancer and how they can be proactive in reducing their risk factors.
The ACS representatives also said the goal is for each of the communities to do some small “feeder events” individually – whether it is some type of fundraising sale, a drive-thru dinner or similar activity – leading up to the larger, combined Relay.
A Zoom call featuring a couple of ACS staffers and a handful of volunteers, with an invitation also sent to leaders of the Modesto, Turlock and Oakdale events, outlined the proposed changes. Staff members said they hope that all Relays can return to in person gatherings in 2021, but there has been no timeline established as yet.
“One of the pluses is that we all have bare bones committees,” Kingsbury said of the trio of local Relays. “With these events coming together, we can bring all their strengths together and have a full, robust committee … we can maximize everybody’s experience as well as the impact of the mission.”