This year's event will be vastly different than the Making Strides...

This year's event will be vastly different than the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in October 2018, above. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

For the first time since March, when the coronavirus emergency forced the cancellation of large gatherings nationwide and led to a steep decline in donations to non-pandemic-related charities, the local American Cancer Society is holding an in-person fundraiser.

The event is Sunday in Wantagh, a drive-thru at Jones Beach, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., with attendance staggered for social distance to halt coronavirus — and to avoid traffic backups.

As at other charities, which have had to cancel auctions, galas and fundraisers, the inability to host events has hurt the organization’s finances.

Sunday’s event — Making Strides Against Breast Cancer — has been "creatively reimagined with safety top of mind due to the COVID-19 pandemic": a drive-thru in Parking Field 5, not a walk on the boardwalk, according to an organization news release.

"Normally, we would be having a walk with 60,000 of our closest friends," said event organizer Brittany Lawton.

But on Sunday, Lawton said, there are to be 649 vehicles, and about 1,000 people are expected; attendance is capped to avoid car backups on Bay Parkway.

According to the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum, the American Cancer Society expects revenue from the Relay for Life series to fall 55% from its original 2020 goal of $151 million.

On Long Island alone, there have been 25 Relay for Life charity walks canceled, Lawton said.

Patrice Lestrange Mack, the local organization's spokeswoman, said: "As a result of the financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, our hallmark research funding is currently in jeopardy. The impact of COVID-19 will reduce our ability to fund cancer research by 50% in 2020 — our lowest investment this century if current trends continue."

There have been online events, but they don’t raise as much money. That's been the experience of other charities too, including the March of Dimes, the National MS Society and the Arthritis Foundation, according to the forum.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that donations to COVID-19 causes have soared, but other charities have suffered, buffeted by no in-person events.

In 2019, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer on Long Island raised $2.6 million, according to Mack. Her projection this year: $1.2 million.

At Sunday’s event, there will be a "pinked-out drive through car wash," a bubble machine and a pinwheel sand garden, Mack said.

Each of the 2,000 pinwheels contains the name of someone who has breast cancer, is in remission, has beaten it, or has died from it, Lawton said.

The organization says that in 2020 nationally, about 276,480 women — and 2,620 men — will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 42,170 women will die, as will 520 men.

Lawton said participants can help raise money for the organization by asking friends, family and others for donations to sponsor their attendance.

To ensure social distance and avoid potential coronavirus transmission, attractions are meant to be enjoyed from inside attendees’ vehicles.

"There’s no stopping," Lawton said. "There’s no getting out."

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