Early in Garner United Methodist Church’s Relay for Life barbecue fundraiser it became clear that the dozens of smokers outside would be put to use, with cars wrapping around the church by 11:30 a.m. to use the drive-thru for lunch.
By the end of the day – service ran from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. – the church had sold about 3,000 chicken meals and raised about $15,000, which would be more remarkable if they hadn’t been raking in dollars for the cause by the thousands for years.
The Relay for Life event to benefit cancer research will be held April 25-26, but the church holds its chicken BBQ fundraiser the third Friday of March to begin gathering fundraising momentum. The church was named one of the top 400 teams in the nation after raising $28,000 for the American Cancer Society, and has now raised $350,000 over 15 years of its participation.
Associate pastor Susan Hobbs said the efforts stem from the people in the church and their involvement.
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“It’s something that’s been a gift to me that people step up to do this and I don’t have to ask them to,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs, who’s been with the church 23 years, said the church has tackled the issue full force because of how close to home it hits.
“We had so many people in our church that either had family that had cancer or themselves had cancer,” Hobbs said.
This year’s “team leader” overseeing the efforts for the Garner UMC Relay team serves as a prime example. Fritz Sterling has undergone multiple surgeries to treat melanoma. He said the money for research is vital, and pointed to tangible advances in technology that help treatment as motivation.
“That’s what this is all about,” Sterling said before describing surgical tools used to identify cancer cells so doctors could remove them while minimizing damage to healthy tissue. “Years ago they couldn’t have solved the problem. If they thought they didn’t get it, they kept whacking away.”
He said after one surgery his doctor told him “it used to be I’d take most of your ear” instead of the comparatively less-traumatic removal of harmful cells.
A line of 24 smokers operated throughout the day to produce the mass volume of chicken. Several cookers put the chicken on, turning it, and checking the temperature to ensure it fully cooked, juicy grease dripping down the meat thermometer.
Volunteers served the meals in three ways: in a dining hall set up in the church’s gym, by delivery and drive-thru. Dozens of volunteers contributed to the effort.
In addition to the barbecue, Garner UMC raises money for Relay for Life through T-shirt sales – they’ve sold 1,200 this year already according to Sterling – and donations, which Sterling called “the key to most of our success.”
Hobbs said the efforts to raise money, while predominantly positive, had a bittersweetness to them.
“There is a joy about the event and also a sadness from the people that have lost their lives,” Hobbs said.