Relay for Life event fights cancer, hunger

Published on Tuesday, 2 July 2019 18:41
Written by Erica Drzewiecki


NEWINGTON - Local residents decided to fight cancer and hunger at their Relay For Life event this year.

Over 600 people participated in the 2019 Newington Relay For Life on June 14 at Mill Pond Park. This large group of cancer survivors, their loved ones and American Cancer Society (ACS) supporters took part in all the traditional Relay activities, from the survivors’ lap and dinner to the opening and closing ceremonies. The nighttime event was a deeply emotional experience for all.

It was during the luminaria ceremony that this particular Relay broke ground, taking a unique turn.

Luminaria are white paper bags decorated with tributes to loved ones who survived or succumbed to cancer, with a candle inside. They light the way for participants as they walk to raise money for the ACS. The bags are typically filled with an inch or two of sand to anchor them to the ground and placed along the perimeter of a site’s walking track. Newington’s Event Leadership Team asked people to bring canned food to weigh down their luminaria instead of the usual sand. After the event, volunteers made a delivery to Newington Town Hall, where the Department of Human Services’ Food Bank serves families in need.

“We call it a win-win situation,” Gary Pierson said as he wheeled in a giant cart filled with 200-plus cans of produce, beans, soups and other non-perishable sustenance.

“They told us this is the time of year they need it the most,” his wife, Christine Pierson, pointed out.

The couple’s son Zachary co-chairs Newington’s Relay along with Patti Golka. The family first got involved in 2001. Two of Zachary and his brother Kyle’s grandparents have since become cancer survivors.

“Organizing the Relay for Life of Newington is an awesome privilege,” Zachary said this week. “Being able to see the community come together and raise funds for cancer patients and research is an amazing sight.”

This year’s efforts to fight hunger in Newington just made it even more special, he pointed out.

“The amount of canned goods raised would not be possible without the support of all our wonderful teams at the event. I think it was a tremendous success this year and believe the food drive will become a recurring event at the Relay for Life of Newington.”

ACS liaison Erica Cruz was so impressed by their creativity she’s shared the idea with the national organization and on social media.

“A lot of the best ideas come from our event leadership teams,” Cruz said. “This was a great idea.”

Human Services financial casework coordinator Pam Wassik manages the Newington Food Bank. She typically sees donations pick up as the holiday season approaches, but this time of year there are far fewer. Still, the need never changes. Last month 126 families were served, taking home a total of 582 bags of groceries.

“In the summer there’s always more of a need for food,” Wassik explained. “We are so grateful. Newington is incredible. People here are so giving.”

The Newington Relay For Life fundraiser reached $63,000 three weeks after the event. Visit to contribute.

According to the ACS’ most recent statistics, Relay events across the nation have funded $410 million in cancer research as of August 2018. About 1.34 million patients and caregivers received phone and online support in 2017, and 452,000 patients stayed in Hope Lodges while receiving cancer treatment.

Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or

Posted in Newington Town Crier, Newington News on Tuesday, 2 July 2019 18:41. Updated: Tuesday, 2 July 2019 18:44.