Watsonville Relay for Life eclipses $100K for second year

Jevin A. Hernandez keeps a steady pace during Saturday's Relay For Life in Watsonville. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE — Watsonville’s annual Relay for Life event hauled in more than $100,000 for the second consecutive year, organizers reported on Monday.

A worldwide 24-hour fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life has raised more than $6 billion for cancer research since its inception in 1985.

Watsonville’s yearly event has raised roughly $1.4 million over its 17-year run, including last year’s $115,207 total.

Though final numbers are still being determined, event co-chair Barbie Gomez said this year’s sum could eclipse last year’s when fundraising is finished in late August.

“We still have donations coming in,” Gomez said.

The six-figure totals from the last two events are viewed as a massive success after a couple of years of diminishing returns.

In 2017, Watsonville’s Relay for Life raised about $63,000, continuing a downward trend in fundraising for the event. Gomez said the downturn in the economy had a lot to do with the lack of financial support.

Gomez and Esther Morillo, two longtime participants, took over as co-chairs last year and helped reshape the event to match the Watsonville community by adding a car show, as well as flag football and basketball tournaments.

The car show returned this year — there were 51 entries — and the flag football and basketball tournaments are expected to return next year after a hiatus this year.

“We saw the decline and we had to make some changes,” Gomez said. “We tried to make it into an event that has something for everyone, and we’ve seen a nice response from the community.”

Cars relay 2019 7-19 web

The car show portion of Relay for Life made a return in Watsonville. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian

Officials from multiple offices were on hand Saturday, including Watsonville Mayor Francisco Estrada and Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Michelle Rodriguez. 

More than 100 cancer survivors kicked off the fundraiser with the ceremonial opening lap, and hundreds followed them on the Watsonville High School track over the event’s 24-hour runtime.

Jevin A. Hernandez of Salinas made the drive to Watsonville to show support for his best friend from high school who is a cancer survivor, and remember one of his wife’s close friends who died fighting cancer.

“We’ve lost a number of people in our family to cancer,” said Hernandez, who had already completed 26 laps around the track by 12:30 p.m. “We’re just here to support everyone and support the cause.”

As of Monday, Rita Pina was the top individual fundraiser, with $5,892.

Team Whole Foods was the top team fundraiser, with more than $14,000 in the bank. Pina’s team, the Pink Angels, came in second with roughly $10,000.

“When it comes down to it, we’re all on the same team,” Gomez said.

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