SILVER CREEK – Flood waters and ice jams couldn’t keep about 100 enthusiastic swimmers from plunging into Lake Erie on Sunday for the 13th annual Polar Bear Swim for charity.
Judy Castiglia Kelly, wearing a furry white polar bear costume, led the group into the water.
It was Castiglia Kelly’s 12th time taking the plunge, and she is just two weeks away from having hip-replacement surgery.
“I have only missed one year, and that was when I had another surgery,” said Castiglia Kelly, who also helps organize the event, which draws hundreds of spectators to cheer on the swimmers.
Donations are raised for Variety Kids, the local food pantry and the Silver Creek Emergency Squad. Many squad members were in the water in their specialized water-rescue suits.
Todd Johnson, Town of Hanover supervisor and local fire department member, said he was pleased with the level of organization and safety at the event. Johnson was on duty, making sure that there were volunteers on land, in the water and directing parking on Jackson Street at the Firehouse on the Lake, the host site for the event.
Besides pledges from swimmers, the event also raised money with raffles, a chili cook-off contest and wine tasting.
Pamela Forge, coordinator of the event, was pleased with this year’s turnout.
“It seems like every year swimmers join us from farther away to take the challenge and help with fundraising for the event,” said Forge.
“I tried to let everyone know that they did not need to worry about flooding in Silver Creek,” she said.
On Saturday, homes on three streets near the creek were evacuated when creek water was rising. The water had receded by late afternoon. The Chautauqua County Department of Public Works Track-hoe was still parked on the beach where it was used Saturday to break up ice.
Late Sunday, Forge was still counting pledge sheets and checks. She said area businesses were still bringing donations to the site.
Last year, when the totals were complete, $17,000 was raised to be shared among the three charities.