WILKES-BARRE — It’s the soft glow of the small candles through the paper bags — one, then dozens, then scores — that give the event its soul.
“As those candles are lit, they are not just the candle in a bag,” Carol Marino said of the Luminaria ceremony each year at night during the Relay for Life. “It’s really the story of someone’s battle.
“People look upon this ceremony very respectfully,” Marino, a cancer survivor herself for 20 years, added. “They treat it very reverently.”
Marino is part of the “Star Survivors” team that has participated with full force in the annual cancer fundraiser for about 15 years. For most, the relay is the 24-hour gathering of teams and individuals at King’s College Betzler Fields, many trying to keep at least one person walking the oval for the duration. This year’s begins 10 a.m. on June 21.
But for teams like the Star Survivors, it is almost a year-round passion. On Wednesday members were filling gift bags for a golf tournament today. And that’s the proverbial tip of the metaphoric iceberg.
“We started around Christmas, we did a holiday wrapping program at Barnes & Noble,” Marino said. “We sold Christmas wreaths, we sold Easter flowers, we had an Easter tea.”
Now there’s the relay, where the team will have a tent with a basket raffle. “In June we’re doing an Art ‘n Vino” at a Plains Township gallery. That’s when you “bring a bottle of wine and snacks and paint a picture for a one-of-a-kind creation.”
Do they ever stop?
“The American Cancer Society fiscal year ends at the end of August. Once that is over we take a break, and then we start around Christmas time again.”
Marino estimates the team has collected around $100,000 over the years, and that they are consistently among the top money raisers for the Relay for Life of Wyoming Valley.
Event Chair Sara Klinges said the relay at King’s field is the largest in the area, simply because it covers the largest turf. “There’s also one in Mountain Top and one in Nanticoke,” Klinges said.
And while people tend to participate in the one near where they live, all the events are about the same struggle: Surviving cancer.
“It gives the community a chance to fight back against cancer,” Klinges said. “People come from all over, businesses, families, friends.”
The event typically draws more than 200 people, and along with the attractions set up by teams under their tents, organizers make sure there is something going on almost all the time.
This year’s list includes a frozen T-shirt Contest (you try to rip them apart, though no one is likely to stop you from trying to wear one), a scavenger hunt, balloon toss, trivia game, karaoke, board games and a rooster crow contest at 7 a.m. Sunday morning.
There is no deadline to register to participate, Klinges said, adding people can sign up the day of the event.
Heart of ceremony
“We are always looking for a lot of survivors and caregivers to get involved, because they are the heart of it,” Klinges added.
That “heart” of the relay is brought home by a series of ceremonies beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday with the “survivor ceremony” and ending with the lighting of the Luminaria at 8 p.m.
For those who have never seen it, Marino said, “It can really take you off guard.”