Union City celebrated a major achievement over the weekend.
Together, more than 400 community members hit the James Logan High School track and camped out overnight to help fight cancer by participating in , a 24-hour fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Relay events are held throughout the country.
Collectively, through lead-up fundraising campaigns and the day of the event itself, Union City Relay participants raised just over $94,000 — only a few grand short of their very ambitious goal of $100,000.
“I’m not sure any of us thought we had the capacity to reach it, but we set the goal and worked really hard toward it,” said Charmaine Banther, Union City’s Relay for Life event chair, who took the helm after Jennifer Dudley earlier this year.
Its seventh year in Union City, the event raised , according to Banther.
Because of its continued growth, Union City’s Relay received two awards, including the Circle of Excellence for increased donations and participation, Banther said.
Banther said the community’s participation made the event a “magical experience.”
The event, which lasted from 10 a.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday, featured not only a 24-hour relay but a number of fundraising booths, entertainment and games, along with remembrance ceremonies and survivor stories.
Among those sharing their courageous survival stories was the family of toddler , a 22-month-od from Newark diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. Scarlett’s parents shared moving words about their efforts to beat their child’s condition, Banther said.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye there,” Banther said.
Team Zoe raises the most money, spirits at Relay
Another moving moment was during the luminaria ceremony during which paper bag lanterns with notes for fallen loved ones are placed along the field at sundown. The ceremony included , who passed away in July from a rare form of bone cancer.
Team Zoe, a Relay team formed in her honor, raised more than $11,000. The team raised the most money in Union City, with Zoe’s 9-year old brother Teo the top individual fundraiser, bringing in more than $3,500 in donations alone.
The team was comprised of 36 individuals — the largest team to participate this year, according to Banther.
“They brought a huge energy to our relay,” Banther said.
The luminaria ceremony set a somber mood, Banther said, but Team Zoe did something to remind everyone that they were also there to celebrate and fight back — they performed a 50-person “flash mob” dance in the teen’s honor.
“We were all so hurt for Zoe but it raised everyone’s spirit,” Banther said. “It just had such a positive energy.”
Banther said many people were touched by Relay for Life. First-time participants are already excited for next year’s Relay, she added.
“They didn’t realize what an emotional, wonderful experience it was going to be,” she said.
Fundraising continues through Friday
While the event may be over, the fundraising hasn’t stopped. Banther and Relay participants are still gunning for the $100,000 goal.
“We’re still frantically raising as much as we can right now,” Banther said.
If the Union City Relay for Life committee can wrangle $6,000 more, the American Cancer Society will open up a Relay for Life pop-up store in Union City, Banther said.
Banther hopes the store will convince more people to come and participate in the Union City event.
“If we don’t make it this Friday, we’ll definitely make it next year,” Banther said.
While the turnout and participation was great, Banther hopes more community members will join the celebration.
“They don’t have to walk, they don’t have to make a team. We just want more of our community to come out and feel our energy” she said.