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SOUTHINGTON — More than 100 people braved frigid temperatures Sunday morning as they leapt into Lake Compounce to raise money for families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The “penguin plunge” was hosted by Lake Compounce and organized by the World Adult Kickball Association. The $10,000 fundraising goal was surpassed by at least $7,000 before the participants began racing down the docks to test the icy waters of the lake at 10 a.m., said Sean Cummings, community coordinator for the kickball association.
“It was a tremendous turnout,” Cummings said.
Each person who jumped into the icy water was asked to donate $50 to the My Sandy Hook Family Fund, said Jerry Brick, Compounce general manager. The fund, started by Newtown resident Rob Accomando and other local parents, has given more than $1.6 million to the families of the 20 children and six adults killed on Dec. 14, 2012.
“It’s amazing, that after a tragedy that affected so many, people came together to provide tremendous support for the families,” Accomando said.
Accomando, who attended the plunge with his family, didn’t jump into the lake, opting to watch from the beach.
“I think they’re all crazy,” he said. “It couldn’t be any colder.”
Jillian Soto and Erica Smegielski, relatives of two Sandy Hook victims, were part of the Newtown group that took the first leap into the 43-degree water. Smegielski is the daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Hoschsprung, and Soto is the sister of teacher Victoria Soto. They didn’t hesitate as they ran off the end of the dock into the lake.
Members of the Newtown group were quickly taken away to warm up and change into clothes.
Lauren Morehouse, of Newtown, attended the event and took the plunge to support Jillian Soto, a friend.
“I was dreading this for a long time,” said Morehouse. “It was worse coming out.”
Christina Wolf, another Newtown resident, said that while the water was cold, “I would do this again next year.”
Skydiving would be easier, Morehouse said. “This was not on my bucket list,” she added.
After warming up, many headed to Bleachers Sports Bar in Bristol for an after-party. More donations would likely come in during a raffle at the party, Cummings said, increasing the total raised Sunday to about $20,000.
It was the first polar plunge hosted by Lake Compounce or organized by the association.
“We were just trying to come up with a fun idea to raise money for Sandy Hook,” he said.
Plungers took different approaches to how they dressed for the frigid swim.
Cummings and his teammates from the kickball association chose pajamas. Many wore bathing suits. One man wore a superman costume and another jumped into the lake in a suit.
“I thought it would be funny,” said Rick Goodine, a Burlington lawyer. The suit was old, he said, so no harm was done. Of the event, Goodine said, “It couldn’t be any better than this.”
As many of the plungers emerged from the lake, they gathered around a fire lit in a metal trash barrel on the beach. It was cold, said Chris Van Dyke, of Naugatuck. As he warmed his hands next to the fire, steam rose from his back. But it was worth braving the cold Sunday, he said, “Because this is actually for a good cause.”
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