The 2009 Relay for Life benefit for the American Cancer Society is now a bright memory of fellowship, inspiration, education and camaraderie.
The event and its participants filled the grounds at Central Park over the weekend with thousands of people there to raise their voices – and their checkbooks – against cancer.
Organizers expect to meet their $600,000 goal and were still counting the proceeds on Monday.
“There is always a lot of money that comes in after the event,” said Pat Willett, one of the Relay committee members.
The two-day effort involved 140 teams dedicated to raising money for the ACS, in ways traditional and edgy. The point was to earn money for the national group’s outreach efforts to help those affected by the disease.
Willett said that for the first time, they ran out of candles for the evening luminaria ceremony, where people purchase bags with the names of those affected by cancer – those who have passed away, those who continue to fight and those who support them.
The bags, which contain sand and a votive candle that is lit at sundown, were placed around the track where more than 2,500 walkers kept pace for the 24-hour period that started at 9 a.m. Saturday and ended Sunday morning.
Willett said they thought 3,000 candles would be enough, but around 7 p.m., realized they needed more. At least 3,500 bags lit the park grounds by the time the ceremony was done.
Relay for Life brings out the creativity in some of the participants; some offered raffles on gift baskets or homemade crafts, others conducted games or crazy stunts (hula hooping, anyone?) for donations; massage therapists and haircutters were busy and several people stood alongside the track asking walkers for donations in exchange for mardi gras beads or bracelets.
Others sold their wares with every penny going to the American Cancer Society; Starbucks kept the crowd caffeinated for donations and successfully raised $6,000, which Starbucks corporation pledged to match.
Chi-Chi’s Pizza kept pasta and pizzas coming throughout the day (owners Jerry and Karen Bell were spotted just before midnight bringing a carload of fresh pizzas to the walkers); a “food court” where Outback Steakhouse kept a barbecue grill busy, Wendy’s served hamburgers and New Moon offered Oriental specialties – also helped the cause with all proceeds from food sales going to the American Cancer Society.
For more information, visit the relay website here  . For more pictures from the event, visit our "Around Town" section