Relay for Life teams ready to paint towns purple for cancer awareness

Relay for Life teams ready to paint towns purple for cancer awareness

Organizers of the American Cancer Society Relay for Life events, from left, Lauren Stone, ACS Relay for Life specialist, Wendy Riordan, Lincoln event co-chairwoman, Michelle Burns, Smithfield event co-chairwoman, are making a joint effort to paint Cumberland, Lincoln and Smithfield purple to raise awareness and funds, as businesses are encouraged to sell purple products and donate a portion of the proceeds. (Valley Breeze photo by Meghan Kavanaugh)

LINCOLN - Organizers of Relay for Life events throughout northern Rhode Island want to paint their towns purple to raise awareness and funds for the American Cancer Society.

Creativity is encouraged, organizers say. In addition to businesses and residences hanging purple ribbons, flowers and banners, bakeries could add purple sprinkles to sweets, and bars could make special purple cocktails.

The idea is that businesses could charge a bit more for their purple products, and donate the extra cash to the cause. Paint the Town Purple events run from Monday, May 5, through Sunday, May 18, in Cumberland, Lincoln and Smithfield in advance of the Relay for Life events in June.

"We're trying to get as much purple anyway we can," said Lauren Stone, the American Cancer Society liaison for the teams.

Wendy Riordan, who runs the Lincoln Relay for Life along with fellow cancer survivor Mary Mello, said she hopes schools can hold a relay day, and those wearing purple can donate a dollar to the ACS, and sports teams will show support with purple shoelaces or armbands. With many Smithfield Relay for Life participants residing in Woonsocket and North Smithfield, the event's co-chairwoman Michelle Burns of Smithfield, who runs the relay with Jannie Kelleter of Woonsocket, said she hopes these towns will also get involved.

Burrillville has found success with the event for years, Stone said, in raising awareness about the Relay for Life events.

"Relays are all over the world," Riordan said. "It's amazing people still don't know what it is."

The events are overnight affairs, with teams camped out in tents on high school football fields and tracks. Family-friendly events and activities go on all night, as participants walk around the track in shifts. There are also several activities that celebrate cancer survivors, and others that remember those lost to the disease.

"There's walking through the night because cancer never sleeps," Riordan said, adding that even those not on a team are welcome to attend.

Relays are scheduled for June 6 at Tucker Field in Cumberland, June 13 at Lincoln High School in Lincoln, and June 14 at the Smithfield High School track in Smithfield.

Burns, who lost her father to a brain tumor in 2005, said participating in the relays helped her cope.

"I not only gave to the relay," she said. "It also helped me deal with his death."

Money raised at the relays is donated to the American Cancer Society to fund research and programs, like Road to Recovery that gives rides to chemotherapy patients, Hope Lodges for families to stay nearby a hospital for treatment, Look Better Feel Better to learn how to tie head scarves and style wigs, and a 24-hour helpline for cancer information and support.

Cumberland's event, run by Holly LaPlume of Woonsocket, is the largest of the three, raising up to $100,000 each year. Lincoln usually raises about $40,000, and Smithfield raises about $25,000.

Stone said the goal for ACS, which has invested $3.9 billion in cancer research since 1946, is to raise $10 million in New England.

All money stays in town. Funds raised by Smithfield businesses, for example, will be collected by the Smithfield relay team. Contact LaPlume at for Cumberland; Riordan at for Lincoln; Burns and Kelleter at for Smithfield; or Stone at or 401-243-2655.