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From one Relay For Life to four

Organizers say four local Relays for Life don't compete with each other for money or support.

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003

Seven years ago, southern Hillsborough County hosted just one Relay for Life, the annual all-night money-raising event sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

Now, in a sign of the area's growth, there are four relays, including one at Riverview High on April 25 and 26. The Relay for Life of South Brandon will kick off at the same time as Plant City's relay at Plant City High.

Organizers say the relays don't compete with each other, but rather serve their respective communities as they grow enough to merit their own event. This corner of Hillsborough now hosts half of the county's eight relays.

Two of them -- serving burgeoning South Shore and North Brandon -- were established just last year.

"We expanded so that every community has their own relay," said Caryn Pizio, special events manager for the suburban Hillsborough unit of the American Cancer Society. "Obviously, Plant City's residents are not going to come all the way out to Brandon."

Relay For Life, held in more than 3,000 cities and towns across the country, brings together thousands of people representing schools, churches, businesses and other organizations.

Teams of 10 to 15 set up camp and take turns walking, jogging and running for 18 to 24 hours. Throughout the night, games and doughnut-eating contests alternate with sobering speeches and candlelight memorials to honor those who have lived with cancer.

"We keep it fun," said South Brandon relay organizer Laura Solin, whose husband Ed survived lymphoma cancer. "But the serious side is that we're trying to raise money for research to help victims."

Last year, the four suburban Hillsborough relays brought in $315,000, including $130,000 from South Brandon and $107,000 from Plant City, according to the American Cancer Society.

This year, South Brandon organizers want to raise $150,000 in donations from about eight dozen teams, Solin said. So far, more than 75 teams of 10 to 15 people have signed up.

Each team member strives to get $100 in donations or sponsorships before the relay, and teams raise additional money during the event by selling things like cookies, hamburgers and bottled water.

The money raised goes to local programs, research and education offered by the American Cancer Society, Pizio said.

The South Shore and North Brandon relays brought in $79,000.

Dozens of schools, businesses and organizations have participated in the South Brandon Relay for Life since 1996. But Apostles Lutheran Church in Brandon, the only church participating, is consistently one of the event's top money raisers. Last year, the church's two teams raised almost $8,000.

This year, Apostle Lutheran's efforts will be dedicated to congregant Helma Nelson, a cancer survivor who died of heart trouble in December.

"She was just very creative in the ways she would raise money for relay," said Michele Van Epps, one of two dozen church members signed up for this year's relay. "Most of us talk to our family, friends and co-workers, and they write us checks. Helma would put on her relay outfit and just hit the streets. She would go to the grocery store, even to this neighborhood bar down the street."

-- Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 661-2443 or .

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