As part of a push to increase its donations to local elementary schools, the Kiwanis Club of Mesa Verde is hosting a polar bear plunge fundraiser this Saturday.
In the past, the club has donated about $500 every year to each elementary school in Montezuma and Dolores County. This year, Assistant Cortez Fire Chief Shawn Bittle, who is also a member of Kiwanis, wants to make that number bigger, so he decided to add a new event to the club’s usual fundraising schedule. The plunge will be held at the Cortez Elks Lodge from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a $20 participation fee that includes lunch and a chance to win several door prizes.
“I was so blown away with what these teachers and principals were able to do with just a few hundred dollars,” Bittle said. “I was like, ‘Next year, we really need to give them $1,000.’”
In addition to the entry fee, the Polar Bear Plunge will have several other opportunities to donate to Kiwanis. People will bid to sponsor each jumper during the event, and Bittle has set up a GoFundMe page so community members who don’t attend can donate.
Bittle said he has tried to include plenty of incentives for participants to help raise money. Individuals and teams who raise the most will get a chance to win prizes, including a portable hot tub and $500 in cash. Participants are encouraged to dress up, so there will also be a prize for “craziest costume,” which Bittle said he plans to win with a St. Patrick’s Day-themed outfit.
“We kind of threw this together at the last minute, but we’ve seen a lot of response already,” club member Ken Brengle said.
The Cortez Police Department and the Cortez Fire District have formed teams to participate in the plunge, but since there is no preregistration available, Bittle said it’s hard to tell how many people will show up. He’s hoping for a crowd, though, especially since the forecast is less polar than usual for this time of year.
He said people who don’t feel like getting soaked are welcome to come and show their support for the club. Those who don’t do the plunge itself won’t have to pay the participation fee, but they will need to pay if they stay for lunch. The minimum age to participate is 14 years old, and everyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
So far, the GoFundMe page has raised more than $1,300, and the club hopes to raise much more by the end of Saturday. Historically, most of the schools the club supports have used the money for their science, technology, engineering and math programs, although that’s not a requirement.
Bittle hopes to make the polar plunge an annual event from now on.
“I think it’ll be so much fun,” he said.