BENNINGTON -- Many members of the former local Relay for Life committee broke off in November 2013 to organize the Cancer Center Community Crusaders.

The reason for the break was that last year, when the committee asked the American Cancer Society to return some funds to support local cancer center needs, the national organization refused.

The Crusaders, also known as the 4Cs, is now raising funds that will stay local, beginning with its first event -- intended to become annual -- on Saturday, May 31, on the grounds of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

The goal of the 4Cs crews is to solicit friends and neighbors for fundraising. The "grassroots effort" also has had local sponsors, services and donations from local businesses. Already in the first six months, there are 17 different groups of people, or "crews" that are a part of the crusaders. The crews have done more than go door to door. Many have held raffles to sell homemade quilts, restaurant promotions, bake sales, tag sales for household items and sponsorships.

Bennington resident Brian Steckley signed up with his crew of six, "Seniors with a Cause," in January. Steckley and his crew have raised about $1,500 since then. "Everyone is being really creative in their fundraising ideas: They are going out and thinking of new things," he said.

Almost everyone who is a part of 4Cs is a cancer survivor or a caretaker of somebody battling cancer. "We decided we really wanted to do something here to support the Bennington community," said 4Cs co-chair, Erica Rogers.

All of the funds raised by Relay for Life go directly to the American Cancer Society. That event is still scheduled for Saturday, June 21, overnight into Sunday.

Unlike the Relay event, 25 percent of the money raised by 4Cs will go to regional trials and research that Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center is working on. The other 75 percent goes to local families and current patients going through treatment. "It's nice just to have the small things to assist those battling cancer; It's extremely helpful," Rogers said.

There are many expenses related to treatment that insurance does not cover such as childcare, fuel and transportation, which can be supplemented with this money.

"We're all trying to end cancer, so it's a similar goal (to Relay for Life), but I'm excited about this group," Steckley said. "I think they have done a great job in the short time they have been organized."

The community celebration on May 31 will be from 2 p.m. to dusk. The event will be dedicated to 4Cs committee member Gail Harwood, who died in January. Up until that weekend, crews will be giving out white card-stock doves for $5 donations, which will be displayed outside the hospital throughout Saturday and Sunday. The hospital is holding an event Sunday, National Cancer Survivors Day, for cancer survivors and their families.

The event is being called the Community Remembrance and Cupcake Crusade, which will encompass games, activities, music and entertainment. Each crew will have a tent and offer cupcakes to be voted on as the "crowd favorite."

"We're going to have the best cupcakes and the best decorated booth at the event," Steckley said. "I'm going for the best in every category: I'm a competitive guy."

At dusk, a candle-lighting ceremony will commemorate those individuals and families who have been affected by cancer. "We're trying to make this a fun event. The intention though is to celebrate survivors, those who are currently still fighting, and also a tribute to lost loved ones," Steckley said.

The 4Cs have collected about $7,000 from the crews so far, which will grow substantially as crews turn in the funds they have raised. The next crew meeting is at SVMC, 100 Hospital Drive, Suite 41, on Monday, May 5, at 5:30 p.m.

To learn how to contribute to the 4Cs or to join a crew, call Beth Dillard at (802) 447-5017, or visit http://www.facebook.com/CCCCrusaders.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg