Local Relay for Life chapter breaks records at 18th annual event

A local Relay for Life chapter shattered records again on Saturday, June 18, as the 18th annual Bay Ridge-Bensonhurst-Dyker Heights fundraiser for the American Cancer Society was held at Fort Hamilton High School.

The yearly event, devoted to raising money for research and providing cancer patients with free lodging while they undergo treatment, among other services, was held at the school’s athletic field and welcomed close to 500 people from the three communities.

All in all, event Chair Amy Christodoulou told this paper, Relay raised upwards of $220,000 – a new record.

People walked in remembrance and support of those with cancer, donated to the organization, and participated in games and other activities until sunset, when the Luminaria ceremony – a special candlelight dedication to survivors and victims – took place.

“We sold over 9,000 Luminaria bags, which is a record for us,” Christodoulou said, noting that this year’s ceremony was held in memory of Josephine Como, a Dyker Heights resident who lost her battle with cancer just two months ago. Her family alone – more than 50 of whom were present at the event – sold over 1,800 Luminaria bags. “We had no more room on the track.”

In addition, this year’s event saw the participation of 100 cancer survivors and support from local schools.

“It was an amazing day,” lauded Bay Ridge resident and teacher Tammy Castellanos, captain of P.S. 69’s team, The Stupendous 69’ers. “A lot of money was raised and that’s a good thing.”

When asked why she relays, she said simply, “Because cancer needs to be eradicated.”

Longtime participant Sara Steinweiss agreed.

Steinweiss began her Relay experience over 10 years ago and – to this day – walks the field at Fort Hamilton High School in memory of her Aunt Deb, who lost her battle with colon cancer in May of 2008.

“I Relay for her; her strength, courage and fierceness is something I will always admire and miss and Relay give all of us a place to ‘Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back’ as a community,” Steinweiss said. “Although my story ended in a way I wish it didn’t, there are so many other stories that end in hope and recovery and for that I’m proud. This year was absolutely beautiful. The sight [of the Luminaria bags] never ceases to amaze and move me.”

In anticipation of this year’s event, the local chapter celebrated its record-breaking 2015 fundraiser earlier this year at a kickoff and awards ceremony, during which those in charge honored the 17th year’s top fundraisers – among them, a group named Linda’s Angels, founded 15 years ago by local resident Donna Lubrano in honor of her friend, and daughter’s godmother, Linda Swalling.

Swalling, a two-time cancer survivor, is also the team’s co-captain.

“I know first-hand the good that the American Cancer Society does and that’s why it’s so important for me to keep doing this,” said Lubrano, whose team has held the top spot for the last three years and – until the donation cutoff at the end of August – is still fighting to raise funds.

So far, her team of four has raised close to $12,000 – and counting.

“Every year, the event means something different to each one of us,” said Lubrano who, for the first time this year, helped out as part of the event committee. “I was asked to work the survivor tent and I shed a lot of tears during the day but I mostly felt a lot of hope. I heard so many stories that were so amazing to me and, as much as I get upset hearing that it is a survivor’s second or third time fighting cancer, they are so hopeful and so positive and it just really grounded me. I didn’t walk away with sadness. I was overcome with the strength that these people have.

“It’s just such a wonderful community event,” she went on, “and I’m so happy to be a part of it.”

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