So much is different this year, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. So many events that would be happening in an ordinary year have been canceled or postponed, or are still in limbo.
Because 2020 is no ordinary year. Schools have been closed for months, and no one really knows when they’ll be open again. Millions of people have been furloughed or laid off from their jobs. In-person graduations and proms have given way, in many cases, to online “virtual” events. High school, college and professional sports are at a standstill.
Meriden’s Daffodil Fest was canceled, Wallingford’s 350 Jubilee has been put off until next year, and Southington’s Apple Harvest Festival is still up in the air. The Durham and Berlin fairs will not be held this fall.
Another tradition that’s been affected this year is Relay for Life. But organizers have found a way to keep the event going, albeit in a different way.
Cancer survivors, their families and other advocates left the parking lot of Wallingford’s Lyman Hall High School Friday night in a motorcade that ended at the Meriden Green. Calling it “The Wheels of Hope,” they held handwritten signs, honked car horns and drove in vehicles decorated with purple balloons and messages offering hope and honoring the lives of loved ones.
It’s been 25 years since Meriden’s first Relay for Life event, which benefits the American Cancer Society. The annual event has raised roughly $1 million since it started, according to organizers.
Relay organizers followed the lead of educators who held motor vehicle parades in students’ neighborhoods. Meriden and Wallingford police and firefighters, along with Hunter’s Ambulance staff, joined the motorcade Friday night.
Meriden City Councilor and former Mayor Michael Rohde, who helped launch the city’s first Relay for Life in 1995, was the parade’s organizer. He described the annual relays as “celebrations of life, survivorship and the memories of those who died from cancer.”
Relay for Life traditionally involves people walking laps of local high school tracks, with donors pledging so much per lap. This year’s parade simply shows the will power of participants to find a way to keep the tradition going, by other methods.
“It's kept going and going,” Rohde said. “It's amazing to think something we started from nothing 25 years ago is still going strong.”
With that spirit, we expect Relay to be back next year, and stronger than ever.