Showing posts with label food pantries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food pantries. Show all posts

Friday, April 19, 2024

Late-season Polar Dip raises $5K for Sebago Lakes Chamber's 'Feed the Need' Program

By Masha Yurkevich

About three months behind schedule, Polar Dip participants of the annual Polar Dip rushed into 38-degree water at Raymond Beach, all for a great cause.

Seven participants take the plunge during the annual Sebago
Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce's Polar Dip at
Raymond Beach on Saturday, April 13. Funds raised
benefit 'Feed the Need,' a program that supports food
pantries in the Lakes Region.
Sponsored by Maine State Credit Union, the event is typically held in February at Raymond Beach where a hole is cut in the ice and participants jump into the water from the edge of the hole. But this year the Sebago Lake ice wasn't thick enough for participants to safely hold people in February, so the decision was made to postpone it until April when all the ice was completely melted.

As a result, instead of jumping in, participants would run in from the beach, said Robin Mullins, President and CEO of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

The Polar Dip previously was around for many years as part of the Sebago Lake Rotary's Ice Fishing Derby. The Maine Children's Cancer Network was the benefactor of the Polar Dip for many years. The chamber took over the Polar Dip portion in 2021.

“In 2020, I was approached by my fellow Sebago Lake Rotarian, George Bartlett,” says Mullins. “He was a huge proponent of the ‘dip’ and wanted to bring it back as part of the 2021 Ice Fishing Derby, and he wanted to know if I would help. I immediately said I would and asked if the proceeds could benefit the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce Charitable Trust, or what we call ’Feed the Need.’ Food insecurity is a concern in the region and the ‘trust’ was started in 2016 to address that need.”

February 2021 was the first time the chamber hosted the Polar Dip as part of the Ice Fishing Derby. Mullins said it was a great opportunity during the pandemic to plan a fun, outdoor activity in partnership with the Sebago Lake Rotary Club while helping to alleviate hunger in the Sebago Lake Region.

“Participants of the Polar Dip get pledges,” says Mullins. “And 100 percent goes directly to Feed the Need. We partner with the town of Raymond and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department. They provide assistance in traffic control, onsite emergency personnel, and divers in wetsuits who stay in the water to ensure participant safety.

Participants of the Polar Dip can be any age, young or old and everyone in between, who wants to brave the cold and raise money to help alleviate food insecurity.

“We did have several teams who were signed up in February who could not make it on April 13,” says Mullins. “We have learned the start of April vacation is not the best time for the Polar Dip.”

So, while participant numbers were down slightly this year, Mullins decided at 7 p.m. on Friday night, just 16 hours before the event, that she herself, for the first time, would take the plunge if she could get her family and friends to donate $250 on her behalf.

“Not only did I meet the $250 goal,” says Mullins, “but thanks to my Lakes Region BNI group, the Sebago Lake Rotary, members of the chamber board and a few of my fellow Windham High School 1986 graduates, I crushed it, bringing in an amazing $1,450.”

Because of the lack of ice in April, instead of jumping in, participants would run in from the beach.

The event brought in just over $5,000 from the eight participants, which included Mullins, two people from the Town of Standish, Dr. Mark Wasowski of Windham Chiropractic, a representative from Gorham Savings Bank, two representatives from Maine State Credit Union and a representative from Camp Skylemar.

Mullins said the $5,000 raised will be added to the $13,000 that has been raised over the last year and checks will be going out soon to the 12 food pantries in the Lakes Region including those in the towns of Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Raymond, Sebago, Standish and Windham.

“A huge thank you to our participants, our volunteers and sponsors from Maine State Credit Union, Raymond Fire and Rescue, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department, and Richie Vraux and Jonathan Priest from the chamber board,” Mullins said.

Pledges and donations can still be made. Please visit the chamber website at for more details.

“Sadly, we lost our great community partner George Bartlett last year,” said Mullins. “In his honor, we will be renaming the dip to the George Bartlett Memorial Sebago Lake Polar Dip. He loved the Polar Dip and poured his heart and soul into it.”

The date for next year’s Polar Dip is set for Sunday, Feb. 16, 2025, at Tassel Top Beach in Raymond. <

Friday, February 24, 2023

Polar Dip participants plunge into Sebago Lake

By Ed Pierce

It takes a special mentality to fully appreciate the benefits of diving into 33-degree water, but more than three dozen individuals tried it out last Saturday when they plunged into chilly Sebago Lake as part of the annual Polar Dip off Raymond Beach.

A team from Hannaford Supermarket in Standish braves the
icy waters of Sebago Lake during the Polar Dip fundraiser
to benefit food pantries across the Lakes Region on Feb. 18
near Raymond Beach. More than $5,000 was raised by
participants at the event. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE   
Sponsored by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, the popular event is the largest fundraiser staged every year for “Feed the Need,” an initiative that donates to 12 different food pantries in the Lakes Region of Maine.

Some of the participants jumped into the lake while wearing costumes and others participated as part of teams representing clubs, organizations, or businesses. But everyone jumping into Sebago Lake for the Polar Dip agreed upon one thing – how cold the water was.

“It’s really freezing,” said Abigail Cormier, 15, a student at Bonny Eagle High School. “I expected where we jumped in to be deeper, but the water was unbelievably cold.”

Cormier, a sophomore, was part of a team of students called the “Mother Teresa Club” which leaped into Sebago Lake on Saturday after hearing about the event from members of the school’s Key Club.

Chamber organizers had put out the word earlier this month seeking student teams to participate and the group of jumpers on Saturday included two different teams from Windham High School.

Staging the Polar Dip off Raymond Beach turned out to be a significant undertaking.

A hole was cut in the lake ice about 200 yards off Raymond Beach on the Wednesday prior to the fundraiser and Polar Dip officials expected shelf ice to expand as temperatures dropped to about 18 degrees the night before the event was scheduled to take place. The shelf ice at that location was between 3 and 4 inches when the hole was originally cut, but several days of warmer weather rising to almost 52 degrees later in the week prevented further ice formation and resulted in the loss of about an inch of ice before the fundraiser.

To assure everyone’s safety, the heating trailers for participants were kept on shore and only the teams jumping were led out on the ice and then brought back to the shoreline.

“Saturday was certainly eventful. Usually, we can all go out to the hole and watch the jumpers and the heated trailers are right there to change in,” said Robin Mullins, executive director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. “Not this year. I had to walk each team out individually to keep the weight on the ice low.”

Mullins said the Polar Dip typically has one or two Cumberland County Sherriff’s deputies from the dive team suited up in case of an emergency, but this year there were two from deputies and two from the Raymond Fire Department.

“The ice did break up a bit, but it managed to stay together enough to get all 10 teams, or 35 jumpers, into the water,” Mullins said. “The good thing was the water was only about 3 feet deep, so if anyone went in unexpectedly it wasn't too deep.”

Mullins says that preliminary figures from the event show that it raised $5,000 for Fed the Need.

“The word that comes to mind for me this year is community. The Sebago Lake Polar Dip raises money for the Sebago Lake Region Charitable Trust or what we call Feed the Need,” she said. “The trust donates money annually to the 12 food pantries in Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Raymond, Sebago, Standish and Windham.”

According to Mullins, this is the third year that the chamber has conducted the Polar Dip and up until this year, it’s usually the same organizations participating.

“This year the Mental Health Advocacy Club from Windham High School challenged other clubs at WHS as well as the other high schools in our region, Gray New Gloucester, Lake Region, and Bonny Eagle,” she said. “The WHS Student Council and the Bonny Eagle Key Club both stepped up to meet that challenge. It was so good to see the friendly competition from our young residents for such a great cause. Food insecurity is real and it is an issue even in our region.”

This year’s Polar Dip included teams from Hannaford Supermarket in Standish, the Optimist Club in Gray-New Gloucester, Bangor Savings Bank in Windham, a family from Gray, Team Poulin, Busy Bee Laundry in Windham, Terry Stackhouse from WMTW, and the highest fundraising team from Alchemy Chiropractic office in Falmouth.

“How appropriate that our Signature Sponsor this year was Maine Community Bank. We’re so grateful for their continued support of the chamber,” Mullins said. “A huge thank you to George Bartlett and David Mair from Busy Bee Laundry and Nathan White and his team from the Town of Raymond for all the help with set-up and take down of the event. Lastly, the crews from Cumberland and Raymond Fire and Rescue were amazing. It is all thanks to them that all of the jumpers were able to take the plunge safely.” <

Friday, February 17, 2023

Polar Dip participants prepare for leap into Sebago Lake


By Ed Pierce

Determined ice fishing enthusiasts will have to alter their plans some, but the Cumberland County Ice Fishing Derby remains on after officials canceled the Sebago Lake portion of the event because of unsafe ice conditions earlier this week.

Jason Abildgaard of Raymond Public Works uses a chain saw
to cut through the ice on Sebago Lake in preparation for
Saturday's Polar Dip event sponsored by the Sebago Lakes
Region Chamber of Commerce to raise money for area
food pantries. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE
With a Grand Prize of $5,000 available, the annual event, sponsored by the Sebago Lake Rotary Club, has grown through the years to become one of the most popular fishing derbies in Maine each winter. Milder temperatures this year have left Sebago Lake ice thinner than usual with the currently ice depth stands between just 4 and 6 inches.

With thousands expected to be out fishing on Sebago Lake this weekend, derby officials could not ensure participant safety and recommended fishermen and families find other nearby lakes with thicker ice as part of the Cumberland County Ice Fishing Derby.

One big event that will still take place on Sebago Lake on Saturday is the Polar Dip, sponsored by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce as a fundraiser for food pantries throughout the Lakes Region.

The Polar Dip currently has about 16 teams of jumpers confirmed for Saturday and about 35 people total lined up so far to dive into Sebago Lake. The jumpers will be diving into an 8- by 30-foot hole cut into the ice about 300 feet off Raymond Beach starting at noon Saturday.

George Bartlett, who heads up the staging for the Polar Dip every February, said that the lack of ice has moved the event closer to the shoreline this time.

“The temperature on Friday night is expected to get down to about 10 degrees,” Bartlett said. “If we are at about 4 inches right now, with the thermometer dropping that low, we could add as much as 2 more inches of ice by Saturday morning.”

Polar Dip participants receive pledges to brave the freezing lake waters and last year more than $10,000 was raised for “Feed the Need” which provides financial assistance for food pantries in Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Raymond, Sebago, Standish and Windham.

The Cumberland County Ice Fishing Derby is in its 22nd year in 2023 and despite participants not being able to fish on Sebago Lake, the Rotary reminds everyone that there are more than 20 other lakes available in Cumberland County to fish on. The fishing derby runs Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 with hundreds of perch and pickerel fish pool prizes and community gift cards drawings up for grabs.

The Sebago Lake Rotary Club uses proceeds from the Ice Fishing Derby for charitable donations across the community throughout the year. 2023 Derby sweatshirts will be on sale this weekend at each of the weigh stations and fish collected will be sent for processing and donated to local food pantries.

Last year more than 800 participants tried their luck in fishing holes all over Sebago Lake and fishing ponds across Cumberland County. Fewer fish were caught in 2022 as fishermen mentioned the togue out of Sebago seemed to be thinner and fewer were biting.

But derby fishermen continued to donate much of what they were able to catch. Those donations were delivered to Nova Seafood in Portland for processing and then delivered to assist in feeding the homeless and those facing food insecurity.

According to Cyndy Bell of the Sebago Lake Rotary Club, the exact number and weight of fish donated from the derby was about 7,500 pounds of fish which was collected, flash-frozen and donated to food pantries in the Greater Portland area.

The credit for coming up with the idea for the annual Ice Fishing Derby is Tom Noonan, a Sebago Lake Rotary Club member, who proposed staging the contest in 2001 in cooperation with the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department.

Since then, the event has grown substantially to become the Sebago Lake Rotary Club’s largest annual fundraising initiative and has supported hundreds of charities over the past two decades, with more than $1 million donated to local causes since its inception. The derby gained additional national notoriety as one of only four fishing derbies in the United States to be featured in a television program filmed for the National Geographic Channel that aired in June 2014.<

Friday, February 25, 2022

Polar Dip participants brave frozen Sebago Lake to benefit 'Feed the Need'

A team from The Windham Eagle newspaper was one of many
groups to dive into Sebago Lake during the Polar Dip event
on Feb. 19 sponsored by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of
Commerce to raise money for 'Feed the Need,' an organization
that assists food pantries in the area. From left are Margo
Burnham, Collette Hayes, Melissa Carter and Marion Duyck.
By Collette Hayes

Adventurous Mainers demonstrated their spirit, courage, and tenacity last Saturday as they jumped into the icy waters of Sebago Lake for “Feed the Need.”

Hosted by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, the 2nd Annual Sebago Lake Polar Dip was held on Sebago Lake near Raymond Beach last Saturday. This year, with 12 teams participating, just under $9,000 has been pledged to benefit local food pantries in Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Raymond, Sebago, Standish and Windham.

According to Robin Mullins, executive director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, there are still additional donations that have not been received yet. Once all pledges have been turned in, a grand total will be calculated, and this year’s proceeds will be donated to “Feed the Need” which provides support for local food pantries in the area.

“Our biggest fundraising team this year was The Even Keel Committee,” said Mullins. “The team was instrumental in raising $4,000 in donations. Each team member will receive a $40 gift card from Hannaford Supermarket.”

Being accustomed to cold water can be done by swimming in it at least once a week and gradually extending the time in the water and members of the Even Keel team said that they swim in the ocean throughout the year. Some members swim daily in the ocean for at least 10 minutes which is ideal training for the Polar Dip event, they said.

Even Keel Committee Member Peggy Armstrong said that the team took pledges for how long they could stay in the near-freezing 33-degree waters of Sebago Lake. Dressed in colorful costumes, the team kicked off the Polar Dip event by plunging into the lake where ice was carefully removed for the event and for 10 minutes they played a lively game of water basketball.

A foreign exchange student attending Windham High School, Marion Duyck, heard about the Polar Dip earlier this month and decided she wanted to try it.

Duyck, a senior from Thuin, Belgium, said she had never done anything like this before.

“I just wanted to experience what doing something like this is all about,” Duyck said. “There is nothing like this in my country. It was really nice and everyone here at the event on the lake was positive and cheerful. The water we jumped into was pretty cold but it wasn’t all that bad. I’d probably do this again.”

Margo Burnham, one of the family members that manages the Wind in Pines Resort in Raymond said that she would definitely participate again next year.

In 2021, Burnham began participating in ocean dips in the spring and fall with a group of women in Camden. She says that she was drawn to it because it was a fun challenge as well as an opportunity to meet and socialize with friends.

During the winter months, Burnham has dipped a time or two into the chilly ocean waters for about a 10-minute swim which she found to be invigorating and enjoyable.

“I loved the cause for the Polar Dip and when invited by a Windham Eagle staff writer to participate, I was excited to team up and to be a support. It is truly inspiring to see a community of people come together to support a common cause,” said Burnham. “The event was festive and fun having an announcer and a countdown for those jumping. I was completely inspired and awed by The Even Keel Committee team. For novices it made a person aware that it can be manageable to be in very cold water for an extended period of time if an individual finds themselves in that situation.”

Recently Burnham was instrumental in helping to save the driver of an ATV that had plunged through the ice on South Pond. The driver had been submerged in the freezing water for over 10 minutes while he was waiting to be rescued.

“I thought he would be frozen,” said Burnham. “With assistance he climbed out of the water and then was able to walk back to the shoreline. Your body can tolerate cold for a lot longer than I thought, especially if you don’t panic.”

To ensure the safety for those participating in the Polar Dip, emergency medical personnel were on hand from the Raymond Fire and Rescue Department as were divers from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. Volunteer crews directed traffic into the Raymond Beach Boat Launch off Route 302 so participants and their families could park safely.

Mullins said on behalf of the entire Sebago Lakes Region Chamber team she wanted to thank all of those participating in this year’s Polar Dip and all the volunteers for helping make the event so exciting. It was just the second time that the Chamber has hosted the Polar Dip.

She said volunteers were instrumental in setting up the event as well as donating heated trailers to keep those participating warm before and after their scheduled jump. <

Friday, January 21, 2022

Sebago Lakes Region Polar Dip raising needed funds for food pantries

A team of jumpers from Hannaford dive into Sebago Lake
during the Polar Dip event offshore from Raymond Beach
last winter. The event raised more than $5,000 for 'Feed
the Need' which supports food pantries throughout the
Lakes Region of Maine. This year's Polar dip is scheduled
to be held on Feb. 19. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE
By Collette Hayes

The Sebago Lakes Region Polar Dip, an annual bone chilling event hosted by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and the Sebago Lakes Rotary Club, is seeking brave Mainers willing to plunge themselves into chilly Sebago Lake next month.

Community volunteers, swimmers, spectators, media and Raymond Fire and Rescue, dressed in thermal-insulated wet suits just in case of an emergency, will gather on the ice of Sebago Lake near Raymond Beach on Saturday, Feb. 19. They will cheer, provide team support, and participate in the countdown, as Polar Dip jumpers launch themselves into the frigid waters of Sebago Lake to raise needed funds for local food pantries.

The Polar Dip is one activity during the Fishing Derby activities held the same weekend. This year proceeds raised for both events will benefit “Feed the Need,” which provides support for local food pantries in the Sebago Lakes Region in Casco, Gray, Naples New Gloucester, Raymond, Sebago, Standish and Windham.

“George Bartlett from Busy Bee Laundry in Windham is a member of the Sebago Lakes Rotary Club and wanted to bring the Polar Dip back as part of the Sebago Lakes Rotary Fishing Derby in 2021,” said Robin Mullins, Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. “I asked if the proceeds could benefit the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber’s Charitable Fund or what we call ‘Feed the Need.’ Food security in the region is an issue and we need to do something about it. The whole premise behind the Polar Dip event is to be able to give money to the food pantries in the region.”

According to Mullins, participants will take pledges to take the plunge into a large rectangular hole cut into the foot-thick ice and 34-degree water of Sebago Lake.

“We would like to get as many people involved in the Polar Dip as possible,” Mullins said. “All of the proceeds raised from the event stays here in this community and provides security and food for those in need.”

For those who are not enthusiastic about leaping into the icy waters of Sebago Lake but still would like to make a donation can do so by going to the Sebago Lakes Chamber of Commerce website and choosing an alternative option.

“Information for participating in other ways is on the Chamber website,” said Mullins. “Donations can be made directly to Feed the Need or individuals can gather sponsors and then video a fun snow activity such as a snowball contest in PJs or filling a small pool outdoors and jumping into it.”

Once again this year, “The Even Keel Committee,” a group of five women from South Portland, are planning to participate in this year’s Polar Dip event. Last year, members of the group took pledges for how long they could stay in the lake during the event. Despite the cold temperature, they remained in the water for 10 minutes and were instrumental in raising $4,000 in donations.

According to Peggy Armstrong, an Even Keel Committee member, the group of five swim in the ocean throughout the year which is ideal training for the Polar Dip event. Members hope to once again raise funds this year to help support “Feed the Need.”

Two heated trailers will be provided for the participants. Polar Dip participants are advised to pack oversized jackets, warm drinks and towels. It is advised to wear some type of water shoe but not Crocs. When standing on the bottom of the lake, the mud has a tendency to pull them off.

“We’re excited to have heated trailers donated this year for those participating,” Mullins said. All jumps are scheduled so participants will have full access to the trailers to store their belongings during their scheduled jump time.

For those interested in participating in this year’s Polar Dip, jumpers must register at Participants will be given a specific jump time from noon to 3 p.m. Prizes will be awarded for “Best Costumes” and “Largest Fundraisers” for the Polar Dip. <