By Marie Roberts
The Meridian Star
A Meridian area Relay for Life team, raising funds in honor of parents who have battled cancer, raised more than $18,000 in support of this year’s event. Justin Branton, online chair for Lauderdale County's Relay for Life committee, partnered with Nashville resident Erica Huntley to form this year’s team.
Branton was motivated to participate because of his mother’s struggle with cancer.
“My mother, Margaret McCay, was diagnosed with metastasized ovarian cancer almost four years ago," Branton said. "Mom went through remission a couple of times, but at the beginning of this year, the cancer returned.”
Huntley shares a similar experience as both of her parents have battled cancer, and her father is currently undergoing treatment.
“Needless to say, Erica and I both agreed to start a team in Lauderdale County, no matter that we lived in different states,” Branton said.
Branton, a Meridian native, moved back home from Atlanta to care for and spend time with his mother.
“Relay for Life means many things to me, but most importantly to me it means being a caregiver," Branton said. "I do whatever it takes to help my mother, not only when she's feeling bad from taking chemo like she is currently experiencing, but supporting her even on her good days.”
The “For Our Parents” team organized several fundraisers throughout the year, including a landscaping campaign, in which Branton offered consultations on a donation basis. As owner of the landscaping design company, Planted, Branton was able to give advice and ideas to numerous homeowners throughout the area. The team also sold custom bracelets featuring the Romans 12:12 scripture, designed by Branton’s mother: "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." (NIV)
Highland Baptist Church, where Branton is an active member, hosted two fundraisers in the fellowship hall, which included separate breakfast and lunch meals.
“One Sunday immediately following the worship service, our team prepared a fantastic lunch for the church family and more than 200 people attended. We also prepared breakfast for the church family a few weeks later, and that brought in donations as well," Branton said.
The team also hosted its second annual rummage sale, where area residents donated items for the sale.
“We doubled our proceeds this year,” Branton said. “People from all over donated items for this sale, and then we advertised in the paper as well as social media and signs around town.”
At Lauderdale County’s 2013 Relay for Life event, the “For Our Parents” team sold local honey, flower bulbs, food and more, much of which was donated. “We had an event for kids where they could paint a flowerpot, and the clay pots and seeds were donated as well,” Branton said.
The bulbs were symbolic to the team’s motto, Growing a Cure for Our Parents.
In total, the second annual “For Our Parents” team raised more than $18,000, doubled from last year’s fundraising efforts.
“What is amazing is that we had friends from the West Coast and the East Coast donate to our team! It's amazing what word of mouth can do for a great cause like Relay for Life,” Branton said.
As for the future of the team, Branton has high hopes.
“My hope for the future with our team is to possibly become a sponsor for Lauderdale County Relay for Life," Branton said. "My hopes for the team are to honor more parents that are in remission from cancer ... instead of a memory of a loved one.”