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Annual American Cancer Society fundraiser is a community event that will take over the fairgrounds

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Luminarias line the track at night.

Can Crook County residents raise $51,000 to benefit cancer research and patients?

Participants are betting they can.

Relay for Life returns to Crook County this weekend as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society and a community gathering in the fight against cancer.

The event begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 29 at the Crook County Fairgrounds and concludes with closing ceremonies around 10 p.m.

"Unfortunately, cancer touches pretty much everyone, whether it's personally or a family member or a friend," said Lisa Bacon, who oversees and supports the volunteer committees that put on all the five Relay for Life events in Central Oregon. "One in two men and one in three women are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime."

Relay for Life is an organized community fundraising walk. Teams of participants camp out around a track, and members of each team take turns walking around the track for the duration of the event. Food, games and activities provide entertainment and build camaraderie during the family-friendly event that is open to the community.

"While there are times that are very reverent and reflective, there are also a lot of times that it's fun," Bacon said. "We have activities for kids and activities for adults."

This year, Brenda Comini and Fran Carter co-chair the local event with the help of a committee. The 100 or so people who make up the 12 teams range in size from a handful to 18 members.

Crook County's theme is Betting on a Cure.

"We're making it kind of a fun semi-Vegas-type theme," Bacon explained.

Teams began raising funds months ago by soliciting sponsors, collecting donations and selling items.

The teams' combined goal this year is $51,000, and as of Thursday, they reported $37,500.

The event begins with opening ceremonies at 10 a.m., followed by the survivor-caregiver lap at 10:30.

After that lap, members from each team will take turns walking around the "track," which in this case is the road that circles the grassy area.

A silent auction, which includes donations that teams have collected from the community, will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

All teams have fun laps that often coordinate with the theme and activities throughout the day.

Prineville Lions Club members, who have a Relay for Life team, will sell hamburgers and hot dogs from noon to 2 p.m. as part of their fundraiser. The Regal Eagles team will serve a pulled pork dinner from 6 to 7:30 p.m. to benefit their team.

"We're having a dessert activity where each team is encouraged to bring desserts to be judged and then, of course, everybody gets to sample them during the evening," Carter said.

Next is a luminaria ceremony when it gets dark, when they honor those who have passed from cancer and those who are currently fighting.

"It's more of a reflective time of Relay, where we really remember why we're there and why we're raising money so we don't have to keep relaying one day," Bacon said.

Teams have sold luminarias, white paper bags in honor of, or in memory of, someone touched by cancer. During the night-time ceremony, each bag contains an electric candle and lines the track.

The closing ceremonies will follow, and Carter said it should conclude at 11 p.m. However, those who would like to are welcome to stay the night.

Bacon said the Crook County event used to be a traditional 24-hour event, but some of the volunteer organizers found that for a lot of people, it was difficult for them to commit to a full 24 hours.

"There are folks who are very committed to the '24-hour cancer never sleeps, so neither do we' philosophy, so for those folks, the track will still be open for the night, and they're welcome to stay and walk," Bacon said.

Carter, who has participated in Relay for Life since 2006 and is part of the VFW Auxiliary and Friends team, said, "The success of our event has always been the wonderful support from our local sponsors. People are very generous and willing to support our event."

Carter and Bacon encourage the public to drop in or make a lap on Saturday and learn what the American Cancer Society can offer.

"If folks are going through cancer treatment, they're a survivor, or if they've lost someone, it's a great way to connect to a community of people who really understand that and can support them and cheer them on, regardless of where they are in the cancer journey," Bacon said.

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