Riverfront walkers raise funds – and hope for a cancer cure

If you’ve never heard of a “Relay for Life”, see why all who participate – or even visit – will never forget what they experienced, at this very special event  …

All night long, and into the following day, at least one team member was walking to raise money for cancer research and patient aid during the “Relay for Life”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
From telethons to footraces, many fundraising events have become media circuses – a spectacle that overshadows the mission of the organization.

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event called “Relay for Life”, which took place overnight from August 10 and 11 at Sellwood Riverfront Park.

Encampment supports participants
In the twilight, the park’s grassy lawn looked like a cross between a festival and a Scout’s campout. Tents were pitched; open-air encampments were set up. Food booths offered nourishment, ice cream – and rich, strong coffee. Live music played softly from a stage framed by the Willamette River.

Relay team members sat around a camplight, providing company and support for one another as they took turns walking the circular path around the park, fulfilling the donation pledges they’d solicited.

Candles light the way
The walkway was illuminated with candles in paper bags – they called them lumenaria. Many of the lumenaria were inscribed with names of individuals who have died of cancer.

Here, standing in the light of a camp lantern, are the American Cancer Society’s Mary James – and the volunteer Chair for Portland’s “Relay for Life”, Kathy Allworth.

“This event is held each year by groups around the world to support cancer research, advocacy, and patient aid,” the Portland event’s Chair, Kathy Allworth, told us.

Allworth says this is one of 4,800 Relays that celebrates survivors (anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer), remembers loved ones, and raises money for the fight against cancer.

“My personal connection is – well, my parents’ luminaria are right over here,” said Allworth, pointing to two flickering path side lanterns. “I lost my mom to cancer when she was 54; my dad to cancer when he was 75.”

First-time volunteer and food chair Gloria McAll says “This is an awesome event.” On the hill behind her, the word “HOPE” is spelled out with lumenaria.

Allworth said her employer, Fred Meyer, supports employees’ volunteer involvement. “The Relay for Life is something that – once you come here and see the event for yourself, once you walk the track, once you see all the lumenaria lit – you can’t help but pitch in.”

About 400 participated in the Portland event. “This is our third year. It’s gotten consistently bigger each year. Come join us!”

Throughout the night, Relay for Life participants walked the path to raise money for research that can lead to finding a cure for cancer.

Learn more about the American Cancer Society – and plan for your participation next year, by visiting www.cancer.org.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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