When Maryland residents learned they would not be able to descend upon Sandy Point State Park and charge into the freezing-cold Chesapeake Bay for the Polar Bear Plunge this winter, many of them took Special Olympics Maryland’s advice by planning low-scale, socially distanced events of their own.
Perhaps the biggest event was held in Severna Park on January 30 as Garry’s Grill and numerous other businesses partnered in support of the cause.
Garry’s Grill owner Eddie Conway set up a tank last June to raise funds for Special Olympics Maryland, and this time, he had a grander idea: get businesses to take one slot each from 8:00am to 4:00pm and raise at least $200 during their 30-minute session.
“It was like a legal Ponzi scheme,” Conway joked.
Collectively, the businesses from Severna Park and beyond raised $35,086.
“It’s definitely the highest total for a one-day event this year, as far as we know,” said Frank Farrell, vice president of development for Special Olympics Maryland. “There are some events that we might not know about. It’s remarkable what they raised.”
By comparison, this year’s top corporate plunge team raised about $30,000 over the span of several weeks, Farrell said.
“It was great to see that people understood that the plunge is more than a party at Sandy Point,” he said. “It’s our biggest fundraiser and is critical to our mission of supporting our 8,716 athletes.”
Conway had plenty of support in coordinating the successful fundraiser on January 30. Savvy Consignment owner Stacey Cassidy and her team raised $3,100 and Cassidy was dunked more than 15 times in 30 minutes.
“After being in business for almost 12 years, I am blown away by the community involvement and support,” said Cassidy, who was proud to be involved. “I had the support of my family, employees, friends, customers and people I didn’t really know.”
The Matt Wyble Team of CENTURY 21 New Millennium committed to an hour sponsorship because, as Wyble noted, “it’s such an awesome cause.”
“Hats off to Eddie Conway and his entire staff at Garry’s Grill for hosting such an amazing event, especially on such short notice,” Wyble said. “Honestly, Eddie and I commented during the event that we are both so lucky to work and live in such a great community. To raise over $35,000 in less than three weeks is yet another example of this amazing place we call home!”
As someone who has supported Special Olympics Maryland over the years, Severna Park Lanes owner Mike Hall did not hesitate to get involved.
“It was a great day for all who participated and came out for the event,” Hall said. “Everyone was worried just how cold the tank might be. Actually, it was better to be in the tank than sitting on platform.”
The mild temperature was by design; Conway had heated water in the tank to keep participants from getting sick.
Other participants in the Severna Park plunge included George’s Mixes, Allied Power Washers, Rita’s Italian Ice, FX Physical Therapy, The Big Bean, Mahon Landscaping, Coerver United, Larry Sells Consulting, Special Olympics Dance Group, Kaycie Quinones and friends, and Rockwell Fitness.
Across Maryland, Farrell said 11,000 people plunged last year, raising roughly $3.5 million. An estimated 4,200 people have plunged so far during the “virtual” plunge this year, but the average amount of money raised per person was higher this year, showing that “people took it seriously.”
As of February 7, Special Olympics Maryland had raised $1.8 million of its $2 million goal for the 2021 plunge.
“It was so heartwarming to see so many people adopt this plunge,” Farrell said. “For many people, it’s a rite of passage to do the plunge at Sandy Point. Certainly, people would not have done this on their own if they didn’t feel tied to our mission and the athletes.”
Hall expressed optimism that the event will continue for “many years to come.”
“Even in a pandemic, you can't stop communities coming together to help one another and a great cause,” Hall said. “We are all blessed to be a part of a community that comes together in support of one another.”
Conway is grateful for all of the participants and those who donated.
“I could have done this event myself, but we’re stronger together,” Conway said. “What we were able to accomplish, it was so much better by including the whole community.”