CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – The weather made every effort to intrude as thunder and lightning swept through northern Westchester Friday evening, but volunteers and participants in the very first Katonah-Lewisboro Relay for Life remained undaunted.
“We are a little late getting under way – we didn’t have our opening ceremony until about 8:30 p.m. – and I was concerned that everyone would leave,” said Ali Flynn, co-chair of the event. “But it was remarkable; just about everyone stayed and continued with the fund-raising and the walking.”
As of midnight, Flynn said the Katonah-Lewisboro Relay for Life had raised approximately $175,000, but she added that the figure is likely to climb when last-minute donations and concession stand revenues are counted.
The event was originally scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. at the track at John Jay High School. Participants were in the process of setting up their tents, the band was getting ready to perform a sound check, and volunteers were hanging the final set of balloons and decorations when the storm clouds moved in and the thunder began to rumble. Everyone was instructed to move to school gymnasium to wait for the weather to clear.
“After the storm passed, it turned into a beautiful night,” Flynn said. “All the humidity was gone and it made walking a little easier.”
Relay for Life is a fund-raiser overseen by the American Cancer Society that pays tribute to both those who have succumbed to cancer and those who have survived it.
“Our job is to find people who are interested in doing it,” said Megan McGrady, an American Cancer Society Relay for Life staff partner. “They recruit the volunteers and the teams.”
McGrady said that John Jay junior Gigi Antonelle was the one who approached the American Cancer Society about bringing the event to Lewisboro.
The fund-raising is done when volunteers form teams, usually in tribute to or in support of cancer victims and then raise money in their name before the actual event is held. The Relay for Life takes place overnight night, when the team members take laps around the track.
“They take the laps on behalf of those they’ve lost,” said McGrady. “One person from each team walks the track all through the night.”
While money is raised prior to the relay, fund-raising continues throughout the night through raffles and sales. Money is also raised through the luminaria ceremony. Luminaria are paper bags with candles placed inside to create a lantern effect. The bags are donated by the American Cancer Society and then sold by the local Relay for Life through its website.
“My daughter and I have been decorating the bags,” said Joyce Cifarelli, chair of the luminaria committee. “People order them online for $10 and we put the name of the person they want to honor or memorialize on them and we kind of custom decorate them.”
As of Friday night, Cifarelli said they had sold more than 300 luminaria and hoped to sell more as the evening progressed. One of the highlights of the relay is the luminaria ceremony when walkers make a silent lap around the track.
The leading fund-raiser for the inaugural Katonah-Lewisboro Relay for Life was John Jay student Ellie Schneidman, who raised $12,000.
“Her mother just passed away in May, which was very sad,” said Jared Schneidman, Ellie’s father. “So her fund-raising was a tie-in to that. She asked people to donate in lieu of flowers. Her mom was very interested in this (the Relay for Life) and was trying to make it, but it just didn’t work out.”