The chairwoman of the East Wake Relay for Life appeared before the Zebulon Town Board Monday to ask for a helping hand.
Vickie Curtis told commissioners the relay has suffered a significant drop in team participation this year, and she cannot justify holding it on the large field behind Five County Stadium that the relay has called home for 10 years.
Curtis said she was expecting about six teams to take part in the fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s research and family-support programs. Typically, 17 to 25 teams participate.
“This year, life has happened, and several of our major teams are not able to participate,” Curtis said. “Many of those teams have lost loved ones in immediate family to cancer, and it’s just a very emotional time.
“I can’t imagine us being in that massive grassy field behind Five County Stadium and dropping six teams on that site. It would be overwhelming for the event. We don’t want our event to look like our teams and our end of the county doesn’t care.”
Curtis pointed to the town’s longtime support of the relay as she asked the board’s permission to relocate an abridged version of the event to the front lawn at Town Hall.
She also asked commissioners to waive the facility-rental fee for the Zebulon Municipal Complex for Friday, May 19. The board supported both requests.
Organizers plan to open the gates at 5 p.m., close them by 10 p.m. and be off site by midnight so the Farm Fresh Market scheduled for the lawn the next morning can open as planned.
“We would not be asking for use of the building itself, but just for the grassy area and the parking lot,” Curtis told the board. “You won’t know that we’ve been there.”
Addressing the plan to shorten the event from the typical overnight schedule to a single evening, Mayor Bob Matheny wanted to make sure the Survivor Lap would remain.
“I know that was always very well participated in,” Matheny said.
Curtis said the walking laps designated for cancer survivors, caregivers and children would continue.
Attendance at Relay for Life events varies from year to year, and it is common for the relay to gain or lose a few teams from time to time.
But to lose up to 75 percent of the teams, which hold individual and group fundraisers throughout the year, is anything but common. The East Wake Relay didn’t see that kind of downswing even after an embezzlement scandal in 2009.
The event has covered Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon since 1997, starting at East Wake High School. Rules against lighting luminaria on the school property led organizers to seek a new space.
“At that time, the mayor stepped up and was willing to partner with our event, and we were offered the opportunity to have our event held at the Five County Stadium,” Curtis said. “That has made a tremendous difference for us. It’s a nice space where we can grow.”
The event has raised about $1.7 million over the years, with a little more that $1 million of that being hauled in since the move to Five County Stadium.
In 2014, Raleigh-area Relay for Life officials informed the East Wake Relay its fundraising was the most improved out of the 18 Relays in the local district.