November 27, 2021

Polar plunge off after United Way cancels event

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Jack Hearn runs out of the ice cold water during the 4th annual Polar Bear Plunge at Yaman Park in March 2014 to benefit the United Way of Cortland County.

CORTLAND — After six years of people in bathing suits, gym clothes and inflatable tubes plunging into the freezing pond at Yaman Park, United Way for Cortland County has decided not to hold its Polar Bear Plunge this year.

The plunge was used as a fun event for residents to raise funds to benefit the human service programs that United Way funds in Cortland County.

“We’ve seen some declining involvement and donations, and the board determined that we needed to step back this year,” Martha Hubbard, president of the board of directors for United Way, said in an email Wednesday.

Hubbard could not provide specific numbers on the decline. She referred to United Way Executive Director Christella Yonta for the information, but she did not have exact numbers.

Funds from the annual event have steadily diminished in recent years.

In March 2016, it raised $7,600 from 50 participants, barely half the $14,000 the 80 participants raised in 2015.
That is despite the 2015 event taking place a month later, in April rather than March. That year, flooding at Yaman Park covered the beach area and made the water was unsafe for people to enter. Instead of running into the cold pond, participants ran through heavy spray from a fire hose.

And, the year before, in 2014, about 113 people participated in the plunge, raising more than $19,000. The 2014 event took place in March with people diving into the icy water at Yaman Pond. Former United Way Executive Director Cindy Eberhart said at the event the organization’s goal had been to raise $20,000.

While the plunge will not take place this year, Hubbard said, “It may be something we look to in the future.” The board may also look into organizing a different type of event.

“We do appreciate all the people who have donated and plunged in the past, and encourage folks to look at our annual triathlon for the fall,” Hubbard said. “We are still in need of donations to support important programs in Cortland County, so please do contact the United Way.”

Executive Director Yonta said in a phone interview this morning the organization wants to hold events that are more engaging for people and bring more attention to organizations served by the agency.

No new events are in place, yet, but a task force is brainstorming ideas on what United Way should do next, Yonta said.