Hay River raised more than $80,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society through the Relay For Life event, a cancer fundraiser that happened over the weekend at the Diamond Jenness School track.
Cancer survivors and relay participants braved a cool night in Hay River to raise funds for cancer research. The annual 12-hour Relay For Life event, which switches between Hay River and Fort Smith every year, attracted 97 people forming 10 teams. Rain threatened but never came, and approximately 150 survivors, relay participants and volunteers walked the track, played games and participated in ceremonies.
“We had games during the night. We had the girls coming in with Zumba. We started the Celebrate Ceremony with the Head Start Dene Drummers from the reserve,” said Pat Burnstad, event chair for volunteers and entertainment. “It was really neat… They’re four years old. They play the drums.”
Three teams – Power To The People, Marlisse’s Garden Party and Quilt of Hope – managed to raise more than $10,000 each. Although numbers will not be finalized until sometime this week, Burnstad said the eight-man NT Power Corp. team Power To The People was almost certainly the top fundraiser this year. The team raised almost $10,000 with its online efforts alone.
Shari Eurnstab, this year’s event chair, applauded the efforts of all participants. Most people came from Hay River, but members of the Fort Smith community fielded the 11-member Mabbitt Bunch team. Marilee Colp, a pancreatic cancer survivor from the Big Valley, Alberta area and member of the Hook, Lion and Sinker team, raised the most money individually, bringing in $3,014.
Fundraising efforts were not as plain as going door-to-door asking for donations. Burnstad said people got creative. One team placed pink flamingoes on lawns and asked people to pay to have them removed. Cops for Cancer arrested people on bogus charges and had them pay to get out of jail. Both of those efforts each raised $2,000 for Relay For Life.
“You can’t just say the people donated the money. The teams worked hard to raise it,” Burnstad said.
Donations came from sources, including 10-year-old Victoria Engele of Fort Smith, who has for the past two years raised money at her “toonie” birthday parties. Party guests are asked to bring a pair of two-dollar coins – one for the birthday girl and one for donation to her charity of choice. Engele raised $65 for Relay For Life.
Fundraising continued even as relay participants walked the track. One fundraising day-of highlight was the “chicken dumpling” event, Burnstad said. A grid was placed in a chicken coop, and people purchased $10 tickets, guessing where the chicken was going to poop. All the while, The Chicken Dance played on. Burnstad said it was a lot of fun and raised $560.
“It’s games and music all night long, and people walking the track,” Burnstad said.
Although Burnstad said the event was a good time, there were also sombre moments. The event started with a survivors’ supper, which hosted 60 cancer survivors from Hay River and several from Fort Smith. At midnight, more than 700 luminaries sold prior to the relay were lit and placed around the track for a remembrance ceremony to give thought to those who did not survive their battles with cancer.
“It’s actually a pretty emotional ceremony,” Burnstad said.
Relay For Life, which started at 7:00 p.m. on June 16, went all night and came to an end at 7:00 a.m. on June 17. It was a tiring 12 hours, but it was worth it, Burnstad said. She will be happy to pass the torch back to Fort Smith for next year’s relay.