Polar bear plungers raise more than $40,000 for YMCA programs

Polar bear plungers rush into Black Moshannon Lake

Participants rush into Black Moshannon Lake as part of the YMCA's 2017 Polar Bear Plunge.
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Participants rush into Black Moshannon Lake as part of the YMCA's 2017 Polar Bear Plunge.

The temperature outside was slightly above freezing, but that probably didn’t make the water any warmer for the more than 100 people who splashed into Black Moshannon Lake early Saturday.

The morning marked the 15th annual YMCA of Centre County Polar Bear Plunge to benefit two YMCA-sponsored programs. Saturday also marked the third year for the plunge at Black Moshannon State Park.

Plungers gathered on the beach wearing costumes and bathing suits, huddled around each other and kerosene-fueled heat lamps until the moment came. A Julian couple, Jennifer and Ray Kristofik, donned “Coneheads” from the classic Saturday Night Live skits.

“This is our park,” Jennifer Kristofik said. “We’re here all the time, so when there’s something happening here, we try to be part of it.”

The Kristofiks said this was their third time plunging, as they’ve been a part of the event since it moved to Black Moshannon. They said they dressed up like a reindeer and an elf their first year, but learned quickly that the less you wear, the better.

“The first year, we had some things that were too hard to get off,” Jennifer Kristofik said. “It was excruciating. This year, we’re down to the bare minimum.”

Plungers rushed across the beach with shouts and screams, splashing into the icy water with equally loud cheers. Some were brave enough to dive completely in, while some were content to just get wet and get out. Most rushed to the changing rooms adjacent to the beachfront, and some huddled shivering around the kerosene lamps.

Bellefonte Area School District Superintendent Michelle Saylor echoed the idea that less is better. A second-year veteran of the plunge, she said if you can bear it, wear a swimsuit, get in and out quick and get changed just as quickly.

For Saylor, though, the drive to take the plunge came from a desire to support the backpack food program, which affects about 200 children in the district, she said. According to Saylor, the district packs about 140 backpacks a week for various children.

“(The program) is really important for our community,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to help everyone out — it’s what we all should be doing.”

The plunge supports both the backpack weekend food program and the YMCA’s own open doors program, plunge organizer Liz Toukonen said. Toukonen, who has participated in every plunge, said the plunge raised about $47,000 for the programs last year.

The backpack food program provides a backpack of food for students to eat on the weekends when they are not receiving a school lunch, according to the YMCA. Toukonen said YMCA staff pack about 1,000 backpacks every Thursday.

The open doors program provides financial assistance to ensure no one is turned away due to the inability to pay. About 2,400 people in Centre County have benefited from this program, the YMCA said.

According to YMCA communications director Mary DeArmitt, a total of 125 people took the plunge this year, bringing in more than $43,000 for the Y. The State College Young Professionals group, which showed up to the plunge dressed as various Mario Kart characters, were recognized for raising more than $3,600.

Ellen Matis, who spoke with the CDT in September, said this was her first time doing a polar bear plunge. She said she had prepared for the worst, so when the plunge itself actually came, it was tolerable.

“I built it up so much,” she said. “I thought I was going to be so cold, but it really wasn’t that bad at all.

“I would do it again,” she added. “I will do it again.”

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews