Special Olympics Ontario will be getting a big funding boost this year thanks to the 2021 Freezin' for a Reason Polar Plunge, despite the event being held online this year.
Across Ontario, $332,393 was raised, more than tripling the $100,000 goal.
While participants would normally meet up and jump into an ice-cold pool of water, the event was done virtually this year due to pandemic restrictions.
Chatham-Kent Police Constable Jason Herder called this year's event a tremendous success.
"It definitely was beyond all of our expectations for our first real 100 per cent virtual event that we ran this year," he said. "We set a goal of $100,000, you never really know when you set a goal. Obviously, we overachieved on that so it's a huge success."
Normally different regions would host their own individual plunge. However, this year was more of a joint effort across the province with fundraising broken down by regional zones. Everyone who signed up had the opportunity to put in what local Special Olympics group that they wanted their fundraising dollars to support.
According to Herder, Chatham-Kent raised a total of $16,926 this year.
"When you compare it to our first in-person event that we ran four years ago, we raised $14,000. So we actually beat, through a virtual plunge this year, our fundraising total from the first year we got started," he explained. "That in itself I think speaks volumes in how successful this virtual campaign was."
Herder said with COVID-19 already impacting how the event was run, he was unsure what impacts the pandemic would have on fundraising efforts.
"I said when we launched this campaign at the start of the month, we truly do understand that times are tough given COVID-19," he explained. "Every dollar that we were able to raise throughout the month, I think means more this year than any of our previous years just given the circumstances."
Since the usual in-person gathering could not be held this year, anyone who registered to fundraise was encouraged to upload a video on social media doing their own ‘plunge’ throughout the month of February.
Herder said it was a highlight for him to see the different ways that people got involved and got creative.
"Just to see people out there just to kind of have fun with it was the most entertaining," he said. "Some of the virtual plunges I watched were pretty incredible. I was pretty taken aback with just how into it everyone got."
Herder is hoping that the Polar Plunge will return to being in-person for 2022. If that's not the case, he said the organizing team will grow upon the virtual campaign.
In addition, Herder said work is being done to organize other virtual events this year to benefit Special Olympics Ontario including a virtual Torch Run and virtual Torch Ride.