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Hardy Volunteers Plunge Into Icy Waters for Special Olympics
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
01:53PM / Saturday, February 16, 2013
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Dozens took the plunge into an icy Onota Lake on Saturday.

Pittsfield Police spearheaded the organizing of the event. More photos can be found here.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Dozens of hardy souls dove into a frozen Onota Lake on Saturday to raise money for Special Olympics.

The inaugural Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge raised more than $10,000. The event drew dozens of residents and businesses to the first plunge in the area.

"This was more successful that I thought it would be," John Evon, regional director for the torch run, said. "We didn't start planning this until December."

Those who hopped into the lake needed to raise a minimum of $100 each for the cause but some had raised much more.

Spearheaded by the Police Department, the event is the newest addition to the fundraising efforts for the Special Olympics. The torch run program raised about $42 million nationally last year with some $225,000 being raised in Massachusetts, according to Steve Huftalen, director of special events for Special Olympics Massachusetts. Most notably, the LETR program raises funds through the annual Cop on Top program.

At a national conference, Police Officer Darren Derby heard that other communities raised money through plunges and since there wasn't one in Western Massachusetts, he organized one with other officers and the Hampden County sheriff's department.

"There has never been an actual plunge out here," Derby said. "We took the reins."

With a late start in planning, the officers were not sure how successful it would be. On Friday, they had raised about $6,000 but Saturday nearly doubled the amount with day-of registration.

Besides the money, local businesses donated food and drinks, volunteer emergency medical technicians were on site in case of medical emergencies and the Fire Department cut the hole in the lake and had a dive team standing by.

"All of the law enforcement here is doing it on his or her own time," Evon said.

Organizers said next year they hope to get an earlier start on planning so they can get the word out and raise even more.

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