By Wanda Callagy Contributing Writer
---- — Saturday wasn’t the coldest day of the winter, or the snowiest. But it may have felt like it to the hundreds of people who lined up for the privilege of diving into the frozen waters of Goodyear Lake during the annual Polar Bear Jump.
More than 350 people signed up to collect pledges and jump in Saturday’s benefit, which raised more than $107,000 for local families and organizations.
The event, which will celebrate its 20th year next February, is organized by Brenda and James Waters of Milford. The pair decided to try to convince their friends and neighbors to take the icy plunge years ago after seeing similar fundraisers succeed in other, even chillier, communities.
“We had seen this and participated when we lived farther north, and Jamie had this idea when we moved here, ‘Why do we travel to jump there when we could set something up here?,’” Brenda Waters explained. “That is how it got started, and it has just grown.”
The Waters family makes sure that the money raised goes to families in need, usually hearing about potential recipients via word of mouth. Often, Brenda Waters said, past recipients become involved with new people that need a helping hand, and many past recipients “pay it forward” to encourage others to get involved.
“We get calls and last-minute jumpers, and notes all year about deserving folks that others think we can help,” Waters said. “One year we were able to award a family with a much needed van to help with their little boy’s transportation.”
When they gave it to the family, Waters said, “He put his head in his lap and cried.”
Of the Polar Bear Jump, Waters said “It is one place where I see that everyone gives 100 percent of themselves. Jumpers come from all over and their enthusiasm spreads to others.”
The work that goes into organizing the event each year is not inconsiderable, but as Waters explained, “When you see the face on the recipients, it is worth it. I think of some of these moms, dealing with a child’s serious onset ... it makes me remember I just don’t have it so bad.”
Among this year’s recipients are an infant who is undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia; a young boy who was born with severe club feet and a heart murmur; and a 10-year-old with Hunter syndrome, a terminal degenerative condition.
The Portlandville Methodist Church Angel Fund, a recipient of this year’s Polar Bear Jump, will be supporting Amy Crowningshield, a local woman with a neurological disorder that causes extreme progressive body stiffness and spasms. The jump will also benefit Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care, and the Milford Fire Department and Emergency Squad.
A full list of recipients, and more information about the Polar Bear Jump, is available at pbjump.com.