CANTON – The town may be small and the team not all that big, but the Canton Cruisers have come out on top four straight years for the amount of money raised per member.

The 12-member Relay for Life team, one of 22 teams in the River Valley area, has great community support, said member Debi Hutchins. “They come out for events.”

She and other team members worked throughout Saturday on the fourth annual Canton Cruisers Relay for Life Holiday Open House at the fire station.

Hutchins also organizes the highly successful annual auction each April. This past year, this small town of about 1,100 people helped raise $6,000 at the auction and another $6,000 through other events.

Last year, the River Valley teams raised a total of about $100,000 for the cause.

Donations for the auction come from local businesses and individuals as well as from Lewiston-Auburn, Augusta and wherever else Relay for Life supporters work.

Last year, a script from the television show, “Lost,” and a book autographed by Gov. John Baldacci were among the 700 or so items up for auction, Hutchins said.

One local woman writes letters to various companies, asking for some of their products. Some companies respond; some do not.

“It’s just amazing to me. There’s only 12 of us and we’re a small town and we’ve done this big thing,” said Kathy Hutchins, captain of the team and Debi’s mother-in-law.

Kathy Hutchins believes one of the major reasons for such success is the number of people on her team who have been touched by cancer. Her husband and mother died from the disease. Another member, Jackie Conant, has seen cancer take a niece and a brother. Other members have been touched themselves or have family or friends who have been cancer victims.

Six times a year, the team holds a fund-raiser. On Saturday, it was a holiday fair with offerings such as rustic woodcrafts, handcrafted bookcases and other wood items, gift baskets, Tupperware, Longaberger baskets and Pampered Chef products, food, raffles, jewelry and cosmetics.

Four-year-old Kimberly Erin Fleury of North Jay was visiting the fair with her grandmother, Linda Cox of Peru. Kimberly picked a grab bag from Judy Virgin’s gift basket table.

The bag was thrilling. Kimberly found a Beanie Baby bunny, a little book about bunnies, a colorful hair clip and a yellow rubber ducky, among other stuff.

“I love watching the kids,” said Virgin, of Carthage.

The annual event began four years ago and grew so large that it had to be moved to the newly built fire station, said Kathy Hutchins.

The team doesn’t charge for the use of tables or for the food offered. The group relies on donations, and people always come through, she said.

Other fundraisers include a scrap-booking day, this time scheduled for Jan. 17 at Dirigo High School in Dixfield, the auction in April, a bowl-a-thon in January, a chicken barbecue, and the Relay for Life Walk where participants take pledges, in May.

At the end of each event, helium-inflated memory balloons with messages placed inside to cancer victims are released into the sky. That, too, is a fund-raiser, with a $1 donation requested.

Lots of friendly competition exists among the participating teams, said Cindy Kubic who was staffing a rustic crafts table. She also is a member of the Irving’s Forest Products Relay for Life team. During its first year as part of Relay for Life, the team raised $7,000.

“We’ll give it a good push this year, and maybe even beat Canton,” said Kubic. “They are a big train to follow.”


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