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Rubber duckies return to Canalside to raise spirits — and funds

Last year, a 61-foot Giant Rubber Duck went viral as it floated into the Inner Harbor at Canalside and drew tens of thousands of onlookers.

"But we were first," said Laurie Albertsson, past president of the Buffalo Rotary, as she was selling chances Sunday in the Buffalo Rotary Duck Derby fundraiser, now in its third year.

The yellow rubber quackers for Sunday's race were more like the ducky you might float in your tub. But when you multiply that by 865, the sea of duckies filled up the Canalside waters as they were launched by the bucketful, finishing the race under the Blue Line Bridge.

About 200 people, many of them families with young children, lined the water's edge or stood watching overhead from the bridge.

A steady wind meant race organizers had to do a little herding while standing in the canal to corral the sea of bobbing yellow rubber. But after about 20 minutes, the oblivious ducks — including some that had already landed sideways — bobbed their way towards the finish line.

Participants were able to pay $5 to adopt a ducky and the first, second and third lucky duck to reach the finish line won a prize of $250, $125 or $75, respectively. Albertsson said they have sold out the 865 chances every year and this year, with strong online presales, they sold even more, which means some duck adopters may have to share the prize.

Most who waited at the finish line said they were there for the first time and were lulled to join in by the warm, sunny weather and the thought of donating to a good cause.

Anna Fernandez, formerly of Mexico, said she moved to Buffalo three months ago and joined the Rotary. She brought her mother, Anna Coetoe of Mexico, to sit and watch the race on Sunday.

"It's really fun," said Fernandez. "It's what you do in Buffalo."

For the third year, the Buffalo Rotary has held the Buffalo Rotary Duck Derby fundraiser to benefit Rotary Reads Kids Club, which provides funds to renovate nine neighborhood … 

Though they didn't win, Sharon Secrist, who was there with her husband Dana Secrist, said the day couldn't have been any better and added, "It was for a good cause."

Debbie and Steve Miller of Depew brought their daughter and son-in-law, Morgan and Tom Keane from Jersey City, along with their two grandchildren Jack, 5, and Ellie, 2.

"One of those rubber duck are mine and another is for my sister," said Jack, who unfortunately didn't see his yellow pal in the top three lineup.

Neither did Anne Bachowski of Amherst, who was there with her husband, Michael, and their three kids, ages 5, 4 and 5 months. But she said she thought her kids would enjoy the race while learning an important lesson about donating.

Albertsson said they got the idea for the unusual race after one of their Rotarians saw the race in Chicago and then their club bought the gaggle of ducks online.

"It's fun and great for families," said event chair Joyce DeLong.

Albertsson said the duck race at Canal Fest in Tonawanda has been around longer, but theirs was the first in Buffalo and only duck race allowed to be held at Canalside. She said the Rotary event was not connected to the Giant Rubber Duck.

The family-friendly activity benefits the Rotary Reads Kids Club, providing funds to renovate nine neighborhood libraries in the City of Buffalo including: the downtown Central Library, Crane Branch Library, Dudley Branch, East Clinton Branch, East Delavan Branch, Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Branch, Niagara Branch, North Park Branch and the Riverside Branch.

Albertsson said the rubber duck race raises about $4,000 to $5,000 each year. Their largest fundraiser is their "Wines of the World" wine and beer tasting event, which will be held at Kleinhans Music Hall in February with a Roaring Twenties theme.

"We've done a lot of fundraisers for adults and we wanted to do something that was really more family and community-orientated," said Albertsson.

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