By Karen Zautyk
Come this Friday night, and all through the dark hours until Saturday morning, DeMuro Park will be aglow with luminarias. These are small sand-filled bags holding lighted candles — and so much more. Each will represent someone who was lost to cancer, or who is battling cancer, or who is a cancer suvivor.
In addition to the candles, these luminarias will hold memories. They will hold hope. They will hold love.
The Olympic-size track around the park will be lined with them, marking the town’s 8th annual Relay For Life, sponsored by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
More than 800 people, representing 50 teams, are expected to participate in the overnight event, with the goal of raising at least $110,000 for the battle against cancer. Since Nutley joined the nationwide program — Relays are held in 4,800 communities across the U.S. — the town has raised more than $700,000 for the American Cancer Society. The hope is to hit $1 million in the next two to three years. And to continue on from there.
“Relay For Life is a unique event that raises community awareness of prevention and detection of cancer and of services for those currently battling the disease, while raising much-needed funds in the fight for the cure,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mauro Tucci said in a statement.
In person, he said, “Last year, when we raised $131,000, we were pleasantly surprised, because of the state of the economy. Our teams are breaking the odds. Our teams are overachievers. They just outdo themselves.”
We interviewed Tucci and Brenda Sherman of the Nutley Irish American Alliance at the commissioner’s office last week. (Editor’s note: In the interest of journalistic credibility, it should be noted that your correspondent is technically a member of the Nutley Irish, although she is delinquent in her dues.)
The Nutley Irish have been sponsoring a team since the beginning of the Nutley program and are extremely active in promoting the Relay and securing donations for the cause. Over the last seven years, the club has raised a total of $37,000.
Last week alone, the Irish held both a fund-raiser party and a yard sale.
They also sell raffle tickets, T-shirts (new this year) and offer luminaria sponsorship, at $10 per bag. “You can decorate them any way you want with the name of a loved one,” Sherman said.
She explained that this year’s event will begin at 6 p.m. Friday, when the participants will begin to gather and there will be an opportunity to register if you haven’t already. The actual Relay begins at 7, with the “Survivors’ Lap.”
The American Cancer Society notes, “All cancer survivors at the event take the first lap around the track, celebrating their victory over cancer while cheered on by the other participants who line the track. Relay For Life events also recognize and celebrate caregivers, who give time, love and support to their friends, family, neighbors and coworkers facing cancer.”
Then, until 6 a.m. Saturday, each team will have at least one member on the track at all times — running, jogging, walking.
At DeMuro Park, the various teams and the town will have a number of activities tents, featuring a tricky tray, sand art, removable tattoos, a bake sale, etc., all of which will also raise money for the cause.
In support of the Relay, you can also purchase “Finish the Fight” wristbands for $3 apiece at the Parks & Rec Department, 44 Park Ave., from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Tucci explained that Nutley first became involved in Relay For Life after he was told about it by his son Mauro Jr., who had attended a Relay in West Orange. Nutley responded with enthusiasm.
“Nutley people are always ready to volunteer,” the commissioner said. And, he added, “we all have someone or know someone who has been affected by this horrible disease.”
Tucci said that his entire staff is involved in planning the event. The lead people are Chrissy Frusteri and Linda Hamilton.
Note that, although fund-raising is the primary purpose, Relay For Life is about so much more. It provides a support group. Just being there will lift your spirits, and your hopes, and, if needed, offer you comfort.
Citing the “anger, fear and frustration” that dealing with cancer brings, Sherman said that the Relay “offers a way for you to share your experiences, both positive and negative” with others who will understand.
“It’s not just about raising money,” Sherman continued. “It’s about the community of people who come together to share their experiences.”
And why has the Nutley Relay For Life become such an important event for township residents? Tucci summed it up: “It’s a testament to the town, to the organizations involved. It’s one big family.”
“That’s why Nutley is Nutley,” he said. “It’s the people. It’s the town. It’s tradition.”
(For further information on the Nutley event, contact Parks & Rec at 973-284-4966, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. For information on the nationwide Relay For Life program, visit www.relayforlife. org.)