Merced families will continue the tradition of coming together to fight cancer as they gather this weekend for the city’s 16th Annual Relay for Life.
Relay For Life is one of the largest fundraising events organized by the American Cancer Society. The event invites participants to form teams and raise money that goes toward cancer research. Attendees participate in a 24-hour walk , in addition to forming campsites while learning about cancer prevention.
With a theme of “Challenge Accepted,” the event will take place at Merced College stadium. The relay is set to kick off 9 a.m. Saturday and ends 9 a.m. Sunday.
Melissa Puita, the event’s lead volunteer, said 75 teams had registered as of Wednesday. On average each team has about 10 members, which each strive to raise at least $100.
Nearly 100 teams participated in Merced last year and raised more than $185,000. Puita expects this year’s event to raise about the same amount.
Relay for Life of Merced will start off with an opening ceremony that brings all participants together to walk the first lap. Cancer survivors will join to walk the “survivors’ lap” at 9:30 a.m.
A luminaria ceremony will take place after dark, in which lighted candles are placed around the college’s track. The ceremony serves to honor those who have lost their battles with cancer and support those currently fighting it.
Puita said Relay for Life is one of the best ways to raise awareness in the community. She has participated in the event for six years, and has strong personal reasons for doing so.
“The reason I do Relay for Life is because my mom is a two-time cancer survivor,” Puita said. “All my family has been affected one way or another, and I don’t want my future kids to grow up in a world where there is still no cure for cancer.”
Event Co-Chairman J.C. Del Toro has participated in Merced’s Relay for Life for eight years.
Del Toro also has strong ties to the fundraiser. “A few years back my co-worker was diagnosed with cancer. She wasn’t given much time to live, so she lived her life just the way she wanted. She has passed, but I still continue the tradition of helping raise awareness,” Del Toro said.
It’s estimated that 4 million people across 20 countries participate annually in Relay for Life events.
Anyone interested in learning more about this year’s Relay for Life in Merced can contact Del Toro at (209) 201-5508.