LAWRENCEVILLE - Of about 5,000 American Cancer Society Relay for Life celebrations held across the country, the biggest of them all takes place right here in Gwinnett.
In its 15-year history, the Gwinnett County Relay has used the overnight walkathon to raise about $22 million for the fight against cancer.
But organizers said more can be done. The events can be bigger, more people can get involved, more money can be raised.
"Cancer ain't slowing down because of no recession," said Randy Redner, area American Cancer Society manager. "It's still here and it's still affecting people in Gwinnett."
Redner said he hopes to field 375 teams for the May 8 Relay - 306 are currently registered. Teams range from 10 people to nearly 300, Redner said. Their makeup is as diverse as that of cancer patients themselves. Men and women, boys and girls, old and young. Teams are comprised of families and friends, corporations, church members and school groups.
Cindy Collins is the Relay chairwoman for the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville. She said this year's event will mark the 10th time her church has participated and hopes to have about 100 church members involved.
"It's such a big deal in Gwinnett and so many people are affected by cancer," Collins said. "And it seems so many in the church and Sunday school are touched by cancer."
According to the American Cancer Society, one in three people will be diagnosed with the disease.
Area Cancer Society community manager Giana Humphrey agreed that the Relay is a big deal in Gwinnett and said the reason is simple.
"It's because of the people in the community and how they truly embrace this cause," Humphrey said. "It's a way they can unite and take up this fight."
Mirroring a common Relay theme, Redner said, "Cancer doesn't sleep, so we walk all night."
In 2008, Gwinnett added a Kid's Walk to its Relay, which will again be part of the 2009 event.
"It starts them out at an early age and shows them how they can give back to the community," said Linda Story of the Gwinnett ACS chapter.
For the society, Relay - its biggest fundraising event - is a time to celebrate, remember and fight back. For Gwinnetians, including Collins, serving others has never been so easy.
"It's like a tailgate party with a purpose," Collins said.
For more information or to register for the Gwinnett Relay for Life, visit www.cancer.org.