Relay for Life a no-go for now

Relay for Life fundraising event for Canadian Cancer Society Taylor Giovannetti, 8, from Hay River June 15, 2013 Fort Smith Photo by Paul Bickford Northern News Services Ltd.

Relay for Life fundraising event for Canadian Cancer Society
Taylor Giovannetti, 8, from Hay River
June 15, 2013
Fort Smith
Photo by Paul Bickford
Northern News Services Ltd.

It looks like no one will be running in the Relay for Life in Hay River this year.

“As of the present time, it’s cancelled,” long-time event organizer Shari Burnstad told The Hub.

The event, held every two years since 2008, with Fort Smith hosting the fundraiser for cancer research every other year, was scheduled for mid-June. Burnstad said the current committee, essentially the local Lions Club, cannot keep putting it on without support from the community and new volunteers.

“We’re not getting the volunteers and it’s really sad,” she said. “People have got to step up to the plate or we’re not going to have anything.”

The event, which switches between Hay River and Fort Smith each year, has raised close to $400,000 since it started, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, with Hay River contributing about $100,000 each year it has hosted it.

When it ran in Fort Smith last year, dedicated participants ran in the rain to raise about $107,000.

While the donations and pledges the event rakes in for the society are an important part of why it happens, Burnstad said the more important result is hope and support for cancer survivors and those still fighting the disease.

“Last year, one of the survivors said to me, ‘You have to relay, because it’s one of the reasons I’m alive,’” said Burnstad. “It’s hope for the survivors and it shows them that people in their community care about what they’re going through.”

The Lions Club held meetings late last year and again early this year to recruit helpers, but no one showed up.

“It’s a terrible situation,” said Lorna Deveau, revenue development co-ordinator for the society in Yellowknife. “We’ve done everything we can think of.”

Flyers and a concerted marketing effort on local television and radio stations were among their recruitment strategies. While she said the community – especially businesses like Super A – were more than helpful, it has still not produced results in the form of committed volunteers.

“It’s completely unfair,” she said. “There are five or six people from the Lions Club doing it every year and they’re in their 60s and 70s and they have to keep doing it.”

According to Deveau, the NWT has the highest per capita donations to the society in Canada and the South Slave event has been a large part of that.

For now, Burnstad – who doesn’t let having to use a walker stop her from participating in the relay herself – said that Hay River will be sending a team to Yellowknife’s Relay for Life this year, scheduled to be held  June 13.

“It doesn’t matter if we take the money to Yellowknife or we collect it here, it’s all going to the same place,” she said. “The Lions at this point don’t want to do it.”

While all the materials, like signage, are provided by the society, Burnstad said directors for each aspect of the event would be needed to make it happen – including things like entertainment, setup and take-down.

“At this point we’re a little late,” she said. “But not so late we couldn’t rally and get it done.”

-Sarah Ladik