Have pie, and walk it off, too

June 14, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

There's an extra topping on the pizza boxes at Domino's and Papa John's shops in Hagerstown.

Store employees recently pasted fliers advertising the upcoming Washington County Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society's signature fund-raiser, on about 1,000 boxes. The innovative marketing ploy was the brainchild of Mike Surrena, a 27-year-old pizza junkie, college student and sales associate at Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hagerstown. Surrena, of Hagerstown, also is the husband of Washington County Relay for Life Chairwoman Dee Surrena.

"It's just about trying wild and crazy ideas to see what flies," he said.

Mike Surrena - who orders pizza up to three times per week - said he saw the boxes as baby billboards that could be used to help boost relay participation. Last year's event raised about $42,000 - $58,000 short of the fund-raiser's goal.

"It was hard times to get people last year," he said.

So Surrena asked owners and managers of the three local Domino's stores and one Papa John's store to participate in the recruitment effort, and they readily agreed. "I just believe in the program, in helping to raise funds to fight cancer," Papa John's Store Manager Cyndi Gibson said.


The pizza box initiative had prompted two calls to the Surrenas as of June 8 - an outcome Mike Surrena considers successful.

"If you can get somebody to a relay once, you can bring 'em back," he said. "And maybe they'll bring a friend or talk about it at work."

Surrena also taught himself the HTML Internet programming language this spring so he could launch Washington County Relay for Life's first Web site to provide detailed information about the event. He paid all the Web-related costs and dedicated the site at to his late grandfather, who lost his battle with cancer in 1987.

"I'd give anything to talk to you one more time," Surrena wrote in his dedication to the late Ernest A. Baier of Pittsburgh.

Other new efforts to raise awareness about Washington County Relay for Life 2004 included:

  • Door-to-door campaign in which volunteers delivered about 900 fliers to homes throughout Washington County.

  • Nearly 200 event posters hung at area businesses. The poster at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown generated at least two relay teams and participation from numerous cancer survivors, Surrena said.

  • Relay Awareness Rally at Fairgrounds Park in Hagerstown on May 8.

  • Banners affixed to visible locations throughout the county. A relay sponsor funded the 8-by-3-foot banners, which can be reused.

  • "Read for Relay," in which Washington County elementary school students were asked to read books and collect donations based upon the number of books they completed. Only Pangborn Elementary School students took the challenge - with seven youngsters raising $450, Dee Surrena said.

  • Teen Dance Night at a Hagerstown club. Only two teenagers attended the dance, Mike Surrena said.

He also planned to ask about 150 local business owners to advertise the relay on their marquee signs during the week of the event.

"Eight out of 10 times people tell you 'no,'" Surrena said. "But the two who say 'yes' really support you."

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