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Region’s Relay For Life Wraps Up 2020 Season
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Event mentor Monique McDevitt was on hand to help set up the luminaria bags for the final event of the 2020 Relay For Life season, the Valley Springs resident assisting at the drive-thru lighted luminaria on Saturday night, Sept. 19 in neighboring Oakdale. Marg Jackson/The Times

A successful Thursday curbside dinner fundraiser and a Saturday evening ‘Drive-Thru Luminaria’ event served to close out the year for the Relay For Life of Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon-Waterford.

Though the in-person event was not able to be held this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams continued to stay active, fundraising and planning for the final event of the year, the Saturday night drive-thru.

Earlier, teams had sold tickets for a tri-tip dinner fundraiser in conjunction with Oakdale’s House of Beef, with an estimated 80 tickets sold. That raised a significant amount for the overall event, said American Cancer Society staff partner Benazir Ali, who works with the local Relay.

As a whole, the combined four-community Relay had raised over $22,000 as of presstime; final donations will be tabulated within the next few weeks for a total amount raised for the year.

Normally, the in-person event – staged for the last several years at Oakdale High School – serves as the wrap up but with its cancellation, the decision was made to stay active online with virtual meetings, Facebook Live gatherings and more.

Coming in to assist at the finale, the Drive-Thru Luminaria on Saturday night, Sept. 19 was Event Mentor Monique McDevitt. The Valley Springs resident is a volunteer with the American Cancer Society and serves as an Event Mentor for the West Region, assisting a number of Relays in a variety of capacities. Saturday, she was there to help place the luminaria bags around the horseshoe-shaped driveway at Oakdale’s United Methodist Church, setting a lighted tea light in each one to illuminate it for the event.

Luminaria bags are typically made In Honor of someone fighting cancer or In Memory of someone who has been lost to the disease.

Ali said all the bags that were purchased and placed at the drive-thru will be kept in storage until the 2021 event, where they will join others purchased next year that will line the track. Typically, the luminaria bags stay lit throughout the night, as teams in the 24-hour event walk the track during the overnight hours, the bags lighting the way and providing a source of inspiration to continue the fight against cancer.

“This is the first year we’ve done drive-thru luminarias,” McDevitt said, noting it was a decision made because of COVID and making sure that those who purchased the luminaria bags had a chance to see them. “They did it in Elk Grove and in Linden, in Tracy they did it as a ‘trunk or treat’ style where the trunks of cars were decorated.”

Ali said she was extremely happy with the turnout for the Thursday night fundraising dinner, with the bulk of the tickets sold in advance but the restaurant also able to accommodate a couple of ‘walk ins’ for the meal. There were also some donations made there, as diners opted to donate some more money to the cause when they picked up their meal.

The Saturday luminaria saw a mix of purchased bags with names and messages on them, interspersed with bags featuring the American Cancer Society logo, to line both sides of the driveway and provide the true drive-thru experience.

Some attendees also chose to park on the street and take their time to walk through the display, looking at each of the bags individually. Others stayed in their cars and proceeded slowly around the venue, often snapping photos of bags.

“I think it looks really good,” Ali said after a volunteer crew finished setting up the bags and prepared to welcome vehicles in to the parking lot. “It’s fantastic.”

ACS and Relay officials – as well as teams – are looking forward to getting back on the track for an in-person event in 2021, which will mark the 20th anniversary year of Relay For Life in Oakdale.

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Luminaria bags, some brightly decorated, were placed In Honor of those fighting cancer and In Memory of those lost to the disease during the Saturday evening Drive-Thru Luminaria event as part of the Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon-Waterford Relay For Life. Marg Jackson/The Times