COEUR d’ALENE — For decades, hundreds of people have gathered on New Year’s Day at Sanders Beach for the annual Polar Bear Plunge.
And until now, people were doing it for no particular reason. It has simply been a community tradition with no organization whatsoever.
The late Jim Elder’s granddaughters want to give people “A Reason for Freezen.”
Lauren and Madison Sanders are working with Amanda Cuchessi, who named the event, and Noelle Swartz to use the Polar Bear Plunge to generate donations of warm clothing and blankets for the homeless.
Lauren Sanders came up with the idea after participating in the Polar Bear Plunge earlier this year.
"The next day, I was reading about the Hangover Handicap Fun Run and saw how much money they raised and thought, 'If they can get that to happen, why not do something for the homeless?'" she said.
Sanders said hundreds of people go down there to freeze for half an hour and then return to their warm cars and homes for the rest of the year, but the homeless population has to endure the freezing temperatures all winter long.
“If you are not in their shoes, most people probably don’t even think about it,” she said. "And we thought, 'Wouldn’t it be great to actually take that plunge for a reason?'"
She said she ran the idea past her family and a few friends, who all thought it was a great idea. They encouraged Sanders to connect with Barb Smalley from St. Vincent de Paul to partner on a clothing drive for the homeless.
Sanders hopes the event will be just the beginning of a series of events to help the homeless. They are forming a new foundation that will be called “Warm Up Cd’A.”
“It is really a great opportunity to bring our strengths together in the community and help people,” she said. “I just want to be able to give back to the community.”
Sanders is encouraging participants in the upcoming plunge on Jan. 1 to bring some socks, gloves, hats, a jacket or other warm clothing items to donate. She said sleeping bags and blankets are also sorely needed.
Earlier this year, Sanders said, she walked the beach after everyone left the plunge and saw dozens of clothing items that were left behind by participants, and thought to herself that homeless people could probably use that clothing.
“We just thought this would be a great place for people to donate,” Sanders said. “If you are going to do the plunge, why not bring a towel or a jacket to leave behind?”
The plan is to promote the event with a sock drive. Sanders and company are asking local businesses to put out donation boxes for socks. So far, Sanders said, a few businesses are participating. They include MaryJanesFarm in the Plaza Shoppes, Tiffany Blue on Sherman and Johannes and Co. Jewelers on Sherman.
“Our goal with the sock drive is to continue to raise awareness of the homeless in the community and continue to raise awareness about our event A Reason for Freezen,” she said.
Sanders said all the items collected will be donated directly to St. Vincent de Paul.
Smalley said she thinks it is a wonderful idea.
“We don’t want to take anything away from that tradition,” Smalley said, referring to the Polar Bear Plunge. “We don’t want to take away from that at all.”
Smalley said St. Vincent will bring a donation truck to the event and provide cookies and prizes for some of the participants.
They will have awards for best plunger costume, best plunger team costumes, best family plunger costumes, oldest plunger and youngest plunger.
Sanders said after the Reason for Freezen, event organizers will be exploring the possibility of creating more events to help the homeless and expanding the foundation into the future.