The music was pumping, people were decked out in everything from a baby shark head to Captain America costumes, as well as a variety of holiday get-ups (think sparkling antlers and Santa hats) It was the 8th annual Freezin’ for a Reason New Year’s Day Polar Plunge.
The event has become the annual kick-off of a new year at Mattapoisett Town Beach. It is also an event that reveals the essence of what happens when a community comes together to help one another.
The crowd was one of the largest yet, and were coming out to support what organizers Will and Michelle Huggins call a “grassroots” event.
Michelle Huggins explained that the core reason for this fundraising event is to raise money for the unexpected costs associated with a cancer diagnosis. The event was born from their personal experience. After Will was diagnosed with cancer, and once the couple reconciled all that had taken place in their own lives, they reached out to the community for the benefit of others.
Huggins noted that everything from parking expenses at Boston medical facilities to grabbing a bite of lunch while in the city adds up after a while. People may struggle to make ends meet or simply to fill a gas tank for the trips to medical appointments.
“There are so many unexpected expenses,” she said. “We’ve been able to help about thirty families over the past eight years,” added Huggins.
Each year, however, they are never quite sure whether the New Year polar plunge will even take place.
“Everything is donated from the music to the tent,” said Huggins. “Our friends and volunteers handle everything,” she explained. And for eight consecutive years, luckily everything has come together; families struggling to cover costs even for basic needs are helped.
The event has become a social media and word-of-mouth success. Huggins also thanked the local press for helping to get the word out.
With air and water temperatures both hovering around 40 degrees, the crowd was in full party mode as organizers announced, “Ready, set, go!” The young and the not-so-young shuffled forward from the water’s edge to take a quick dip or, for some, testing how long they could stay in the freezing saltwater. Joyous screams and laughter filled the air as prayer flags floated along strings hung from the lifeguard stand to the tent.
Inside the tent, everyone was welcomed to enjoy a free cup of coffee or hot chocolate, toss a donation in a bucket, or buy some homemade goodies. There were also “I Will” team t-shirts for sale. All the proceeds go into the kitty for the families that will be served.
As for the participants crowding around the bonfire or gathered in thick clusters all along the shore, the party atmosphere buoyed spirits battered by a cancer diagnosis.
One group of plungers was there in memory of a two-year-old family member; another for a mother, father, friend – most had been touched by cancer in some way, and all wanted to give their support.
Huggins said fundraising is a year-round activity for her and her team.
“We depend on word of mouth and our volunteers,” she said, and each year it grows. A Go-Fund-Me page is set up weeks before the event date, and participation in the plunge is not dependent on a set registration fee, but instead by whatever amount an individual wishes to give.
“We’re up to about $12,000,” Huggins said in a follow-up a few days after the 2020 event. And if everything works out, the 2021 event will be even bigger. The goal is to get as much cash as possible into the wallets of those facing the ultimate health challenge. Huggins emphasized, “One-hundred percent of all money donated goes directly to the families.”
By Marilou Newell