There are few things that would prompt people to willingly dress up in costumes, wait out in the cold and jump into a freezing lake, only to quickly return to the frigid shore. However, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9893, in tandem with the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities (ACBDD), have raised thousands of dollars over the years with their yearly tradition: the Polar Bear Plunge.
The Fourth Annual Polar Bear Plunge will take place on Lake Snowden Saturday, Feb. 12 and will begin at 10 a.m., Brian Johnson, commander of VFW Post 9893, said. Anyone can register online in advance by Friday, Feb. 11 at 4 p.m. or in person until the event begins. Participants have the option to register individually or as a team of 10, Johnson added.
Participants in the event will be given a designated time slot to plunge into the icy water alongside a group of 15 or less to ensure that the event is COVID-19 safe, Johnson said. Those involved will be asked to arrive 15 minutes before their time slot to prepare for the plunge.
VFW Post 9893 puts on the Polar Bear Plunge annually as a thank-you to the community for all the support and donations they receive throughout the year. In their effort to give back, all of the proceeds from the event go towards the Beacon School run by ACBDD.
Arian Smedley, assistant superintendent of ACBDD, said the organization serves and supports Athens County residents of all ages. The Beacon School is a program under ACBDD that provides education to students around the county who have been identified as having a severe disability.
“We are immensely grateful to the Albany VFW,” Smedley said in an email. “This would not be happening if it were not for them. They take their service work seriously and are true role models for others.”
Smedley said the VFW Post 9893 came to them four years ago with the idea, and they could not have been more appreciative. Over the years, the money raised from the event has expensed Beacon School field trips, winter clothing for the students and more.
The proceeds from the event will go towards the renovation and expansion of the Beacon School sensory room: a place for students to enter and let their energy out safely through a variety of different activities, Smedley said.
Liam Reutter, a freshman studying pre-med, said he was impressed that the event has so much success in getting people to endure the freezing cold conditions of Lake Snowden in mid-February.
“That’s really cold water,” Reutter said. “It’s pretty amazing that people will go that far for, most likely, people they don’t even know.”
Reutter said the event is unique and unlike any typical fundraiser, and it deserves a lot of recognition for its charitable purpose.
“I think a lot of times those foundations or events might not get a lot of recognition,” Reutter said “It’s important for anybody who can to go out and support it if they have the time.”
This year’s Polar Bear Plunge has yielded more registered participants than ever before, Johnson said. He believes the event is so important because there will always be a necessary cause to support in the community, and VFW Post 9893 is honored to be able to do its part to help.
“There's a constant need,” Johnson said. “As long as the kids have needs and we feel that the kids can benefit from (the Polar Bear Plunge), we're going to continue to do it.”
Smedley agreed with Johnson’s sentiment and added that the Polar Bear Plunge is reassuring to the ACBDD and the Beacon School because it exemplifies how many members of the community are eager to help their cause.
“It’s heartwarming,” Smedley said. “It's a validation of the value that we create and provide for the community.”