On Friday, the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, also known as FIJI, hosted its third annual Light the Night walk to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
More than 100 people participated in the Oct.12 event held in honor of fraternity brother Gary “2E” Nealey Jr., who lost his battle with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 26.
“We put this on as a way to both remember our late brother and to help those people who are still battling these terrible diseases,” said Jeffrey Eldridge, Phi Gamma Delta philanthropy chairman. “He was really loved in this house.”
Supporters gathered at the FIJI house just before sunset to socialize and enjoy refreshments before the walk.
Donations were accepted for illuminated helium balloons — red for supporters and white for survivors or those who have lost a loved one to blood cancer. Raffle tickets were also for sale, with all proceeds going to benefit blood cancer research and education.
Some in attendance had a close family member or friend who had been affected by blood cancer. “My grandmother, she’s in remission for lymphoma,” said Marlee Collins, a member of the Phi Mu sorority, “that’s why I wanted to come support the cause.”
Fraternity members struggled to untangle the balloons as participants flooded into the house. The rooms quickly filled with the bobbing of red and white.
Many in attendance were from neighboring fraternities and sororities who, according to Eldridge, have made up more than 70 percent of the participants in previous years.
University of Maine mascot Bananas the Bear also attended, happily greeting participants and dancing along to Psy’s “Gangnam Style” before the walk began. After a quick raffle drawing and several shouts of, “Let’s walk!” from the crowd, the walkers exited to the front lawn to begin their trek.
Bananas the Bear, with help from the UMaine Police Department, directed students along the route that took them down College Avenue to the Alfond Arena and through the mall on campus.
The large crowd attracted the attention of numerous motorists who honked their horns in support. Several students asked the crowd what they were doing, to which they cheered, “Light the night!”
As the walkers made their way back to the house, the sun was still too bright for the glow sticks attached to the balloons to make more than a faint glow, but the crowd bared the fall chill with a festive mood.
Members of the local community also offered their support to the cause through charitable donations.
“We’ve got a few donations from people who have actually been effected by the disease, as well as very generous donations from brother’s parents early in the event,” Eldridge said. “That’s a big reason why we were able to get everything going.”
For those who could not make it to the event, contributions can be made to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through Lightthenight.org. All donations go to help those affected by blood cancer and to benefit research and education efforts.