The 22nd annual Relay for Life Meriden/Wallingford was bustling Friday afternoon as 52 teams set up booths and tents on the football field at Maloney High School. The cancer research fundraiser has not been held at Maloney for five years due to construction at the school. This year’s theme centered on carnivals and booths incorporated things like carnival games, popcorn, raffles and cotton candy. Team Latin Mamas has over 30 members, and organizer Tina Rodriguez was set to receive a volunteer values award during a ceremony Friday evening.
“This is because I also facilitate a Hispanic support group at MidState (Medical Center),” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez and her team march each year in memory of her sister Lucia Mendez-Mendoza, who died of breast cancer in 2006 after introducing Rodriguez to the event in 2005.
“Little did she know it would be her last one,” Rodriguez said
Rodriguez’s father died three years ago from lung cancer and her brother is battling throat cancer. Rodriguez is sleeping in a tent overnight at the field because “cancer doesn’t sleep and neither do we.”
Nearly everyone at the event has a story about someone close to them. The Avengers has 21 members who raised $2,500 in 2014 and 2015, a bronze designation, before upping it to $5,000 in 2016. This year, the team is shooting for platinum by raising $7,500. The group had more than 30 raffle items on display.
“We fundraise all year,” said Debra Beardsley. “A lot of team members have cancer or have had it.”
Event organizers are hoping to raise $116,000 after expenses this year, said Lynn Kipphut, staff liaison for the American Cancer Society.
“They’ve been very generous,” Kipphut said.
Big Green, House of Hope and Anthem/Blue Cross give more than $10,000 and are designated presenting sponsors. There are two teams who have participated every year for 22 years — Bosom Buddies, with their famous bra display, and Candelighters. The event has also seen an increase in the number of youth teams who come to support friends or family members.
“Everyone who is battling cancer and those we lost are part of the dedication,” Kipphut said. “Thousands of people in every community are taking part in Relay for Life this weekend.”
Bonnie Sutera, who leads Dream Walkers, a team from Fosdick Fulfillment, was writing names on the hundreds of bags to be filled with candles for the luminaria ceremony later Friday evening.
“Sometimes I come across a name I recognize and I cry,” Sutera said.
At 6 p.m., the opening ceremonies began with speeches by Mayor Kevin Scarpati and representatives of Relay’s community and corporate sponsors.
The top fundraisers and donors also were honored.
The first lap is designated for cancer survivors, who walked as a group behind a banner once around the track to “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. As the group neared the starting line again, the second lap began, this time for caregivers to “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.
Catherine Balay, of Meriden, walked for her 5-year-old son, Ethan, who was diagnosed in February with an incurable, inoperable brain tumor in aggressive, advanced stage.
Balay’s team, Spartans for Ethan, included Meriden city health care and school employees, and Ethan’s grandparents and three older siblings.
Even though this is the team’s first year participating in Relay, and they raised more than $500.
“It’s still all new to us, but people are being supportive,” she said. “I think that’s what’s kept us grounded, and it kind of makes everything easier.”
Record-Journal reporter Lauren Takores contributed to this story.