Relay For Life struggles to meet goals in pandemic

Relay For Life of Cullman County went virtual this year with its annual luminaria ceremony. (Relay For Life of Cullman County/Facebook)

CULLMAN, Ala. – With Relay For Life events canceled this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Relay For Life of Cullman County went virtual this year with its annual luminaria ceremony “to remember and celebrate those who have been affected by cancer or lost their battle and their brave caregivers.” Cancer patients and survivors may have weakened immune systems, so canceling events due to the pandemic was crucial. This has had a detrimental effect on fundraising.

“It (COVID-19) has affected everybody’s life regardless of who you are or where you are,” said Relay For Life of Cullman County’s Helen Allen. “With Relay, as with all charitable events, it has been cut down; the majority of Relay events happen in the spring. They were canceled due to the survivors, many of them, their resistance is really low so American Cancer Society has canceled everything out. As far as money, we are so short on what they need for the patients for what they have lined up, what they wanted to do with research, patient services and education. It’s just unreal. They’ve laid a bunch of people off and more layoffs are coming as they try to save all the money they can to go to the programs that they have.”

With the economy so uncertain, Allen said she understands people are focused on their own families and bills and why donations are down.

“When you don’t know what’s going on with your family, that’s your first priority,” she said.

Allen has been with Relay For Life for 26 years and the event has been happening in Cullman for 27 years.

“Us being involved all the time, you think, ‘Well, everybody knows,’ but they don’t,” she said.

Allen recalled a recent discussion with a cancer patient in Cullman who had just received a treatment, saying, “It just floors you for people not to know what a wonderful program it is and how much help they can get out of it.”

Donations made to Relay For Life go to cancer research, patient services, education and advocacy.

Allen explained, “The majority of the money goes to research, but Cullman doesn’t have a research center, so it definitely goes out of Cullman for research. But with patient services, that and the research are what we are getting back from the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life. The treatments that people have, so many of them have been involved. American Cancer Society has been involved in the research that brings these treatments forward, the medications, the equipment they use to diagnose cancer. You can just go on and on naming things that the American Cancer Society does that come back to us.”

This year, Relay For Life of Cullman County set its goal at $150,000, but as of last Friday, it has raised $45,307.53. It set its goal for teams at 50 and currently has 26.

Allen said, “They can still register, Relay has already passed, but they can still register as a team; that would help us out. If they have done anything to raise money or if they just want to register a team and donate themselves, right now on our Facebook page, we are selling T-shirts and we are also raffling a quilt that’s made out of Relay T-shirts from 2019.”

More information can be found at

Allen said people often ask her what she gets out of helping Relay For Life, especially after 26 years.

“It helps my heart,” she smiled. “What little I have done in these years that I have been in it, if it has helped one person to suffer less or live a better quality of life, it’s been worth it.”

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