The St. John community came out in force the weekend of February 11 and 12 to support the second annual Relay for Life.
The event raised more than $170,000 for the St. Thomas/St. John Chapter of the American Cancer Society, topping last year’s fundraising total of $140,000.
Organizers pointed to several factors, from luminary bag sales to a plethora of local events prior to the actual relay, which contributed to the event’s success.
“You know what made it so successful again this year was the young people at the bars,” said St. John Relay for Life planning committee chairperson Mary Bartolucci. “There were so many events at so many restaurants and bars in Cruz Bay, it was great. All of that really contributed to the amount that we raised in the end.”
From a taco eating contest at Barefoot Cowboy Lounge, which raised $1,400, to a bachelor auction at Castaways Bar, which raked in more than $6,000, and several fundraisers at High Tide, which totaled about $16,000 combined, the Cruz Bay bar scene fully embraced the second annual St. John Relay for Life.
“This is exactly what makes the St. John Relay so successful,” said Bartolucci. “We have this tight-knit community that really comes together to support the event and each other.”
But it wasn’t just the bartenders who supported the second annual 18-hour American Cancer Society fundraiser — church groups, community service organizations and even the St. John Taxi Association got behind the event, Bartolucci explained.
“We had the church group out there, groups from the Westin and Caneel Bay, and even the Taxi Association pitched in,” she said. “Taxi operator Edmund Roberts went around and collected money and that was matched by the local American Legion group.”
The event, which kicked off on Saturday, February 11, at 4 p.m. and went on all night long until 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, February 12, also united the entire St. John community in the fight against cancer.
“The entire community comes out for this event,” said Bartolucci. “I love that about the Relay. It’s so nice to see so many people out there, because let’s face it, cancer has touched all of us.”
Volunteers created a makeshift track in the middle of Winston Wells ball field, which was full of at least one walker from each of the 38 teams who kept to the track all night long.
The event is intended to drive home the message that “Cancer Never Sleeps” with one of the most emotional parts of the night being the luminary ceremony, and this year was no different.
St. John Relay for Life volunteers sold more than 900 luminary bags, each one in honor of someone who has lost their struggle with cancer, who is in the middle of the battle or who has overcome the disease. The bags lined the Winston Wells track two-deep and were lit with military precision by luminary committee head Karen Radtke and her team of volunteers.
With the lights out at 9 p.m., the luminary bags around the field flickered to life and survivors, each in a purple T-shirt and holding a link of a long glow-in-the-dark chain, led a lap around the field. The survivors were joined by family members and friends for a second lap as the lights on the field returned and the music brought the energy back to the crowd.
Just about every local musician pitched in to help keep walkers going around the track with a beat to their steps. Reggae, soca, R&B, bluegrass, jam, acoustic and a capella; all genres of music were heard during the 18 hours of entertainment. Cirque-Tacular, the impressive aerial acrobatic performers, returned to amaze the crowd of all ages again this year and there was no shortage of food and games to enjoy.
The survivor’s dinner, which was organized by Steve Yerger, was another highlight of this year’s St. John Relay for Life. The dinner brought together about 30 local chefs, restaurants and caterers, who pitched in to offer literally a little something of everything. From raw food, oysters were being freshly chucked, to local fare, kalalloo soup and rotis went quickly, the survivor’s dinner was a huge success.
Another factor of the event’s success can be chalked up to this year marking the second time around for most of the St. John Relay for Life planning committee members, Bartolucci added.
“The same group of people came together and did it again this year and we knew what to do,” she said. “The cooperation between the committee members was great. We all worked so well together.”
“That was pretty amazing; there were no egos and no arguments,” Bartolucci said. “Everyone just did what they said they were going to do.”
Woody’s Seafood Saloon was the official sponsor of the event, while High Tide and Abigail Schnell O’Connell’s Team Live Strong, were the two highest grossing teams, according to Bartolucci.
Hope for Hair, a non-profit which collects hair for wigs for children with cancer, was represented by a team at the St. John Relay for Life who took home quite a bit of hair shorn from local heads, Bartolucci added.
“Lonnie Willis who had not cut her hair in like 40 years, raised $1,000 and cut her hair to her shoulders,” said Bartolucci. “Dr. Barot got her hair cut and my daughter Grace got six inches off. Hope for Hair went home with a ton of hair from St. John.”
While this year’s Second Annual St. John Relay for Life raised more funds than last year’s event and boasted additional teams, the night was smooth sailing for the planning committee, Bartolucci explained.
“It was just so much more relaxed this year for me and the committee,” she said. “We were all ready by 3 p.m. and the thing that made it really work was that the people who offered to do things, did their jobs. I didn’t have to pick up the slack for anyone.”
The committee had been meeting and working on the event for almost a full year and members planned a small celebration this week to congratulate themselves on a job well done.
“The success of Relay is due to the great group of people on the planning committee,” said Bartolucci. “It wasn’t me, it was the group.”