Saturday's Polar Plunge Already Exceeding Expectations

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Last year's plunge raised about $11,000 for Special Olympics and LETR has already doubled that this year. Check out the photos from last year here.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Expectations for the second annual polar plunge have been exceeded.

Nearly 200 people have already signed up Saturday's plunge, pledging to raise more than $25,000 for the Special Olympics.

The event, headed up the Law Enforcement Torch Run, kicks off Saturday morning at 11 a.m. and features live music, a chili chowder festival, on-ice miniature golfing and, of course, hundreds of local people jumping into the frozen Onota Lake.

According to Darren Derby, a city police officer who is one of the volunteers heading the effort, 169 people have signed up to take the plunge including representatives from 75 percent of city schools.

"The teachers that are plunging have volunteered upfront," Derby said Monday morning.

Groups of teachers or administrators have rallied their students and parents to support it. The schools are renting or making costumes of their mascots for those plunging to wear. Meanwhile, many individuals or teams have formed to help raise money.

"A lot of people have expressed that this was on their bucket list," Derby said.

The business support also took off, Derby said, and in just a little over a month the number of restaurants participating in the chili chowder festival has doubled. Those who don't want to jump into the lake can pay just $5 for samples of chili and chowder from Salmon Run; Krispy Cone, Ozzie's Steak and Eggs; Mazcots; Port Smitts; Jimmy's Restaurant; Zucchinis; Towne Tavern; Matt Reillys and the Backwater Grille. The Pittsfield Fire Department is also preparing to make some food to share along with some other individuals.

"We're not going to be judging this year. We'll probably be looking into doing that next year," Derby said.

Starting at 11:45 a.m. the Jill Gallagher Band will kick off the music, followed by the Arthur Homes Blues Band. The police have already booked large heated tents for the bands and the food festival.

"We're anticipating another $3,000 just from the chili chowder fest," Derby said.

Coupled with those two major attractions, the organizers will be having horse drawn carriage rides, a bon fire, Baker's Golf is setting up an on-ice miniature golf course, ice fishing demonstrations and there will be emergency response vehicles on hand for attendees to look see.

Businesses have also joined the cause with Ronnie's Cycle and Haddads bringing vehicles for display while others are raising money — such as Lenco who is matching their employee's fundraising up to $500.

"There are quite a few businesses on board," Derby said. "My goal is to have this almost become the next winter carnival."

Unfortunately, the liability for hiring an alcohol distributor became too much so the organizers had to cut that out from the original plan.

The interest is more than the organizers expected. In their first year $11,000 was raised from 27 plungers. They began organizing this year's with a goal of $20,000, which they so far have exceeded. With online registration still open, closing on Friday, and the ability to register the day of, Derby expects those fundraising numbers to grow along with the number of divers.

"Logistically, it is going to be a daunting task," Derby said of the managing an event larger than expect.

Those taking the plunge will go in groups of four with the Fire Department and the Sheriff Department's dive team on hand.

"Safety is always of upmost importance," Derby said.

Those looking to attend the event are come to the lake through the Valentine Road entrance and park in the lower Burbank Park lot.

The polar plunge is just one of many events the Law Enforcement Torch Run holds, which includes the annual Cop on Top. The money is donated to the Special Olympics of Massachusetts.

Tags: fundraiser,   Special Olympics,   winter event,   

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