- Story by Lisa Monti and Dena Temple
Photos courtesy of the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society’s annual Relay For Life began in 1985 with one man who circled around a track for 24 hours. Today, Relay For Life is held in more than 5,200 communities and more than 25 countries worldwide.
The event is a community celebration where individuals and teams camp out, picnic, dance, play games and take turns circling around a track “relay” style to raise funds for the fight against cancer. In the beginning, cancer survivors lead the way around the track and are honored with the Survivor Lap. As the sun sets, hundreds of luminaria illuminate an emotional silent ceremony. Each luminary bag honors a loved one who won the fight against cancer, or honors the memory of someone who lost their battle.
The normal Relay For Life events in Hancock County (kicked off last year by Dancing with the Relay Stars) were set aside this year because of coronavirus social distancing practices. Instead, organizers have put together a “drive-by” Luminaria ceremony set for sunset on Friday, May 1 from 6 to 7:30 pm on Coleman Avenue in Waveland.
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“Normally this is the busiest time for Relay events that help to keep us going, but we’ve had to cancel these regular events,” said co-chair Bernie Cullen. “The lighted luminaries are the most popular of all our events.”
Organizers adapted the ceremony to a drive-by event to give people a chance to enjoy the luminaries and signs while keeping a safe distance. You can also see the “virtual luminaries” on the Relay website, Relayforlife.org/hancockms.
Coleman Avenue will be lined with the luminary bags, purple ribbons and signs starting at Central Avenue and going toward Beach Boulevard. The display will remain over the weekend if weather permits. However, organizers are not encouraging anyone to get out of their vehicles to look at the display.
Cullen said that she and her co-chair, Nonnie Richardson, wanted to support local businesses who have always been there for our Relay campaigns. Cullen said, “We know what a hard time it is to be a small business, and we want to thank them and let them know we’ll be here when they need us.”
Special T-shirts will be handed out to cancer survivors as part of the drive-by ceremony. Organizers hope to have many survivors come by Friday night so they can be honored in a special way.
The event will conclude the 2020 fundraising campaign for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, but Cullen said volunteers are looking ahead to next year. “We’ll regroup to make 2021 the best year for Relay, so we can continue supporting our community friends and families with cancer.”
For more information on the Luminary ceremony, call Cullen at 504-338-3021. For help and support from the American Cancer Society, please call the 24/7 hotline at 1-800-227-2345.
You can follow Hancock County’s Relay on their Facebook page,
Hancock County Relay For Life.