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Walking laps in Baldwin to support Relay for Life, cancer research

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A few people made their way around the tracks of Baldwin High School last Saturday to take the “First Lap” to support the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraiser, Relay for Life.

Relay For Life events have raised nearly $5 billion to date, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 4 million people take part in Relay events in more than 5,000 communities across the country.

Teams are typically formed by individuals in local communities who walk around a track to raise funds to support the organization’s mission, including supporting cancer research, increasing survival and improving the quality of life for cancer patients.

And despite freezing temperatures, dedicated members of the team “Caring Butterflies of Baldwin” showed up to mark the “First Lap” and support the cause.

Each team is asked to have a member on the track at all times to signify the ongoing fight against cancer. The first lap signifies that Relay for Life is not just a one-day event, but that fighting cancer is a yearlong effort and relayers will continue to raise awareness until a cure is found.

Baldwinites Abby and Miguel Melendez, who are both cancer survivors and volunteers for the American Cancer Society, helped organize the event, which brings together local community members to raise funds and awareness.

“I lost both of my parents,” said Franklin Square resident Carey-Ann Zinn, who joined the walk. “My mother when I was 13 and my father, I lost three years ago.”

She has taken part in Relay for Life events for years and typically walks with her team members.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted normal life for many cancer patients, organizers said, affecting the frequency of their screenings and treatments, especially since hospitals are so crowded with coronavirus patients.

Miguel said the ACS Road to Recovery program, which he had been volunteering for, has stopped because of Covid-19 safety concerns. The program connects cancer patients to volunteer drivers if they don’t have a ride to treatment.

“It’s definitely put a focus on how communities can come together, but be safe, especially using the virtual platforms and overcoming certain obstacles,” said ACS Global representative and Baldwinite Jennifer Cayetano, who also attended the walk. “I feel like, although we didn’t have a big turnout, this is the focus — that there’s still a lot of volunteers who still want to come together and still want to make a difference.”

Although the general focus, lately, has been placed on Covid-19, she said, cancer has not gone away.

But for the ACS, cancer is still a top priority, Cayetano said, adding that resources remain available and that people have found creative ways to continue to engage their communities to support the cause. Some people monogrammed masks, while others hosted virtual fundraisers.

“It’s amazing to see the different skills that have been used to fundraise,” she said.

And while local fundraising has taken a hit, Abby said, because most Baldwin events were taking place in restaurants, which creates limitations, the team has found ways to adapt.

The Baldwin team may merge with the Rockville Centre Relay for Life team, since membership has been low recently.