Gwinnett Relay For Life and the Dacula Memorial Day Parade have been May traditions in Gwinnett County for decades. But even traditions had to concede to COVID-19 last year.

Last year’s parade was canceled and relay was pushed back later in the year before having to adopt a virtual format as the global pandemic asserted itself and derailed plans everywhere.

But, now they are back and in person — even if accommodations have to be made for the ongoing pandemic.

“Fundraising through Relay For Life is more important than ever, and we can’t allow progress to be put on hold because of the pandemic,” said Daphne Hill, the director of development for the American Cancer Society, which oversees the worldwide Relay for Life program. “Cancer won’t stop, and neither can we.”

Both Gwinnett Relay For Life and the Dacula Memorial Day Parade will return to their traditional May roosts this year as life in the county begins to return to something that at least somewhat resembles normalcy. Their return accompanies announcements from the county’s cities that their events will go forward this year with health and safety precautions in place.

Of the county’s two major May traditions, Gwinnett County Relay For Life is coming up first with an abbreviated “drive-in” relay set to take place from 7 until 9 p.m. Friday at the Gwinnett County Fair Grounds, which is located at 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville. Gates will open at 6 p.m.

The “drive-in” format — where attendees can participate form their cars if they prefer to social distance — is a departure from the traditional relay format, but organizers said all of the events traditions, such as the celebration for survivors and caregivers, as well as the luminaria ceremony and music, will be a part of the event.

There will also be some car-based activities, such as “Beep Beep Bingo” and a “What’s in Your Car” scavenger hunt.

“As we come together to celebrate Relay For Life this year, we’re joining forces to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients and caregivers,” Hill said. “Last year many of our events were held virtually or canceled, putting millions of research and patient program dollars at risk. We’re grateful to be able to meet in person this year, even if that means hosting a drive-in event.”

Meanwhile, this year’s Dacula Memorial Day Parade — which is believed to be the only parade held in the area on Memorial Day — will be held at 10 a.m. on May 31.

The theme for this year will be “So That We May Be Free,” and the grand marshals will be a set of twins, James and Jennings Watkins, who served in the Army during World War II.

The parade will be capped at 150 entries and any groups interested in participating in this year’s event have until either that cap is reached, or until May 14 — whichever comes first — to sign up. Groups interested in participating in the parade can find sign up forms at the event’s website, www.daculamemorialday.com.

“We are seeking veterans, veterans organizations, active and reserve service men and women, both current and vintage military vehicles, high school marching bands, middle school bands, scouts, churches, school organizations, community groups, custom designed floats and local businesses to participate in this year’s parade,” parade founder Marvin Atherton said in an announcement on the event’s Facebook page.

While the parade — which was canceled last year because of the pandemic — is back, there are some precautions attendees and participants are being asked to take to stay safe.

“All parade participants and attendees are urged to practice social distancing and are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings in accordance with current CDC guidelines,” Atherton said.

The biggest change to this year’s parade is not coming because of COVID-19, however. Construction on the new Harbins Road bridge at State Route 8 is forcing a change in the parade route as well as a new announcing stand location for this year’s parade.

The parade will, as is tradition, begin and end at Hebron Baptist Church. It will leave the church and head south on Dacula Road, but its new route will have it turning right onto Wilson Street and then turning right onto Second Avenue. It will then cross Broad Street and head to Hebron Church road before returning to the church.

The announcing station will also now be at the Shell gas station located at the intersection of Dacula and Fence roads.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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