From left, Carole Summerall, Will McReynolds, Billy Bob Phillips, Matt Jones and Tabitha Barham, all of Columbus Fire and Rescue, show how a “Stuff the Boot” fundraiser works Wednesday. It’s just one of the creative ways Relay for Life teams around Columbus are raising funds for cancer research. Lowndes County’s Relay for Life event is Friday, April 25, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. behind Columbus High School. The public is invited to an evening of remembrance and celebration, featuring live music, food and a variety of activities. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
April 19, 2014 11:00:00 PM
For Carol Summerall, it's personal. And for Jean Bailey, Herod Granderson and Laura Brownlee. In fact, for the great majority of Relay for Life team members, the fight against cancer is personal. It's why volunteers are motivated to stuff firefighters' boots with money, make bake sale brownies, take orders for Boston butts and craft wooden crosses to sell. It's why they plant pink plastic flamingos in yards under dark of night, polish face painting skills and clean cookers and grills so they can prepare everything from fish to ribeyes at Lowndes County's Relay for Life event April 25.
More than 50 Relay teams in Columbus -- from churches, banks, health care facilities, schools, clubs, businesses -- are busy raising dollars for American Cancer Society research. The Lowndes County goal is $165,000.
From the opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. Friday on the track behind Columbus High School, to closing ceremonies at 1 a.m., Relay night is filled with remembrance and celebration. It brings together people of every background, age and race to rally with purpose, to walk laps, enjoy games, live music and food -- and honor those no longer by their side.
Summerall lost her father to lung cancer many years ago. It spurs the fire life and safety educator to co-captain the Columbus Fire & Rescue Relay Team with department administrative assistant Tabitha Barham.
"We've had firefighters that have had cancer, and firefighters' wives that have had cancer -- everybody knows somebody that has been touched by cancer. In the fire department, we've all been affected," Summerall said.
Columbus Fire & Rescue's fundraising goal is $3,500. They're getting there by hosting "Stuff the Boot" drives and in-house raffles. On Friday night, their booth will be fish fry central.
"The firefighters have really gotten on board; they have an awesome plan to have red lights to make (the tent) look like a fire truck," said Barham. "The guys have been very involved."
First Christian Church team captain Jean Bailey is a 16-year breast cancer survivor. She lost her husband to cancer three years ago and her brother seven years ago.
"It's important to me. I jumped on it when our pastor brought it up because I'd wanted us to have a team," she said. First Christian's main fundraisers this year have been a chili supper and cake auction.
"Our members really go wild for that auction," Bailey laughed. So wild, the church is already close to reaching its stated $5,000 goal. Booth sales Friday for hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and brownies should put them over the top.
The Cadence Bank Team kicked off Relay fundraising by selling Valentine candy bouquets. Since then, there have been Boston butt and bake sales. Laura Brownlee serves as team captain. She lost her grandfather, Joseph Kinard, to cancer in 1999 and has participated for years.
"Relay for Life is a family event for us," she said. Her children, ages 9 and 13, invite their friends and make an outing of it. "It's a lot of fun, and the cause is important." Brownlee has helped generate about $600 of the more than $3,000 already raised by the team by making art items to sell.
Herod Granderson and the Thunderbolt Men's Christmas Savings Club meet every Sunday evening at the Elks Lodge. They put aside some money for the end-of-the-year, talk about community news and look for ways to lend a helping hand. When Granderson became president of the group, he took it upon himself to talk to the guys about Relay for Life. Granderson lost Wilma, his wife of 43 years, to cancer in 2008. She was sick for three and one-half years.
"I was a caregiver, and after my wife passed away I got really involved in Relay for Life," he said. "When she developed cancer, it just opened my eyes to a disease that's really incredible."
The club's goal is $3,000. "We're getting there," Granderson said, adding that the group hopes to raise a substantial sum Friday selling ribeye steaks, rib tips, chicken, hot dogs and drinks.
"Some day there will be a cure for cancer and everything we do, the effort we put in, will pay off," he said.
Relay veterans will notice a few new twists Friday -- food pantry donations, a silent auction and new finishing time.
"This is awesome: We're asking everybody, for admission, to bring a canned good. They'll be used to weight the luminaria and then be donated to local food pantries, which are really running low," said Relay Team Development Chair Mott Ellis. There will also be a silent auction, with each team donating one or more items. Look for the display by the stage and make bids throughout the night. Winners will be announced during closing ceremonies; you do not have to be present to win.
In years past, Relay has been an overnight event, lasting until 6 a.m. the following morning. The new finish time is 1 a.m., a move designed to encourage more teams and the public to remain and take part in closing ceremonies.
"I think the time change is good," said Brownlee. "It will help people make the commitment to stay."
The 2014 drive has faced a few challenges. City schools are no longer allowed to fundraise for Relay for Life, said Ellis, a cancer survivor and a tireless Relay warrior.
"It breaks my heart. It's so discouraging because we've lost people who had a heart for it," she said. However, some county schools, such as New Hope, are participating.
The American Cancer Society itself is currently undergoing some changes in structure and staffing. But local organizers and team members are focused on the goal and counting on a generous community
For people like Eddy Doyle, that means a lot. He's been to a few Relay events in years past, supporting his school teacher wife who was part of a team. This time out will be different.
"I'm going to start finding out what it means to be involved. I was just diagnosed in December, and all this is kind of new," said the New Hope resident who lost his father to the same type of cancer 15 years ago. To Doyle, the emotional support at Relay is as vital as fundraising for research.
"It's important for me to keep positive," he said. "I think so much of your success in taking treatments and beating cancer is due to positive attitude and that, to me, is one of the biggest parts of Relay for Life."
That empathy and strength will come in many forms Friday night -- the survivors' lap, caregivers' lap, luminaria ceremony, hugs and smiles.
First Christian Church team captain Jean Bailey explained, "It's just so inspiring. The survivors are treated royally, and they're asking caregivers to bring a photograph of their loved one. ... We'd love it if cancer was cured altogether, if there was no cancer any more. Certainly raising this money can help."
Editor's note: Donations to the Lowndes County Relay for Life may be mailed to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, P.O. Box 5093, Columbus, MS 39704. For information, contact Mott Ellis, 662-574-1104, or event co-chair Tina Perry, 662-497-4084.
The Oktibbeha County Relay for Life is May 9-10 at the Starkville Sportsplex. Clay County's Relay event is May 16 at Sally Kate Winters Park.
Lowndes Relay for Life schedule summary
Friday, April 25
■ 6 p.m. - Opening ceremonies (includes survivors' lap, caregivers/memory lap and parade of teams)
■ 6:45 p.m. - MSMS Blue Notes
■ 7:30 p.m. - Keith and Margie
■ 8:15 p.m. - Hope Street Band, New Salem Baptist Church
■ 9 p.m. -Luminaria ceremony (includes Joe Cook School Show Choir)
■ 9:30 p.m. - Shane Tubbs Band
■ 10:15 p.m. - New Age Relics
■ 11:15 p.m. - Charles Shelton, aka Elvis
■ 1 a.m. - Closing ceremonies and victory lap
Please bring a canned food item for Columbus food
banks as "admission."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.