By Danny Schrafel
Even before the hundreds stripped to their swimwear at Steers Beach in Northport at noon Jan. 1, staying warm – or not being cold, at least – was a bit of a fool’s errand.
The 300 or so people preparing to take part in a New Year’s Day tradition rubbed their hands, hopped in place and wrapped themselves in towels. And when the clock struck noon, they dashed toward the water with abandon – and bolted out of the frigid coast just about as quickly.
“It’s exhilarating,” organizer Jack Aiello, a senior patrol leader of Boy Scout Troop 410, said. “At parts, it’s really cold – colder than you ever thought that you could be cold. But it’s really a great way to ring in the New Year and do some good work.”
And just like that, the sixth annual Northport polar bear plunge, a New Year’s Day tradition hosted by the Northport Boy Scout troop 410 and the Northport Fire Department Smokeaters to raise funds for the Ecumenical Lay Council food pantry, was complete, with plenty of frozen fingers and toes to go around.
For Uniondale’s Joe Bosch, it was an opportunity to scratch an item off his “bucket list,” and his grandkids from Northport and West Islip joined him.
“I’ve wanted to do this for years – and we did it,” he said. “I’m very proud of my family.”
The family tradition pervaded the crowd. Huntington’s Jake Gayle joined his mom, Jane and her best friend, Tracey Kuzzinski, in taking the plunge. Jake didn’t hold back, belly-flopping into 2015.
“I figured, if I’m going to go in the water, I might as well go all the way in,” he said.
“To me, if I can do this, I can do anything the next year,” Kuzzinski added.
The tradition began six years ago, when Scoutmaster Joe Aiello and his son Jack wanted to give back.
“Every year it seems to get bigger… we see new faces all the time,” Joe said.
“It’s becoming a great Northport tradition,” Jack added.
That’s good news for the Ecumenical Lay Council food pantry, which, combined with a springtime pancake breakfast, stands to receive between $4,500 and $5,500.
“This is a time when the people need it the most,” Aiello said.
Northport Mayor George Doll, who was a spectator of the whole frigid affair, tipped his hat to the polar bears’ commitment.
“They’re dedicated. You have to really want to – just think about it!” Doll said. “I commend them for their dedication.”