SILVER CREEK - What do zombies, hula dancers and male Buffalo Jills in drag all have in common? Well, they all decided to take a quick dip in Lake Erie's frigid waters and cool off in the dead of winter.
More than 70 people braved the icy waters Sunday afternoon during the 13th annual Polar Bear Swim for Charity at the Firemen's Club Firehouse on the Lake in the village of Silver Creek. The plunge raised an unofficial total of around $15,000 this year, according to co-chair Pamela Forge. Forge helped organize the event with co-chair Judi Kelly.
"Every year's a good year when people come out and donate money to charity," Forge said. "We were happy with the event this year, and we were a little concerned (Saturday) because the street was closed due to flooding, but we had a backup plan, thanks to our fire department. They were going to make sure this went on, come hell or high water."
The swimmers took a quick dip in Lake Erie while celebrating their cool victory over the water's frigid temperature.
"I feel cold and numb, but it's for a good cause," swimmer Tanya Siragusa said after emerging from the water. Siragusa was the last person remaining in the water and jokingly taunted her group, the Polar Vortex Zombies of the VFW Post 6472 in Silver Creek, after they abandoned her in the water. The undead swimmers went on to win the "Best Dressed" award.
"This is definitely a good community and it finds its way of coming together time and time again for a good cause," Siragusa added.
Chautauqua County Legislator George Borrello also decided to brave the waters, making it his 10th year.
"It was warmer than previous years, but it was still a lot colder than others," he said. "This event is fantastic and exhilarating, and it gets bigger every year, which is great since it's for a good cause."
Borrello said he raised $150 in pledges this year, and also recruited some friends to join in on the swim.
All swimmers received a Tim Hortons travel mug after coming out of the lake.
Forge said the highest pledge total for swimmers this year was raised by Dunkirk native Denise Wolnik, who rounded up a cool $5,300. Wolnik was honored this past year by the Variety Kids Telethon for being a top swimmer in raising pledges, as well as her year-long dedication in collecting donations and prizes for the event.
Proceeds from the chilly dip in the lake will go toward Variety Kids (Women & Children's Hospital), the Silver Creek Food Pantry, the Sunset Bay Fire Department and the Silver Creek Rescue Squad.
"We have seven kids and, God forbid, something happens, we want to make sure the hospital is there for them," Siragusa said. "That's the main thing."
After the swim, entertainment was provided by "Rock n' Roll to the Rescue" DJ services and live music by The Bone Shakers. A silent auction, wine tasting with Merritt and Willow Creek wineries, raffles for a basket of cheer and two Buffalo Sabres tickets and fantasy blackjack were also available to event-goers.
First place in the chili cook-off went to Hanford Bay Deli in Irving. Second place went to the Garden Room Cafe in Silver Creek and third place was Little Guys Pizzeria in Silver Creek. Tom's Family Restaurant in Irving and Desperados Barbecue & Catering in Angola also participated in the contest.
Forge wanted to thank everyone who helped make the event a success.
"I can't thank the firemen's club and all their staff and volunteers enough. Our local fire departments, without them, this swim wouldn't happen," she said. "I especially want to thank the swimmers; that's who really make things happen."