We do it because we care

Some of the more than 3,600 bears prepare to make a mad dash into the freezing waters of the ocean during the 21st annual Lewes Polar Bear Plunge. BY RON MACARTHUR
February 9, 2012

Why would sane people change into their bathing suits in the dead of winter and then run into the freezing Atlantic Ocean?

Every year thousands do just that as part of the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge. In fact, more than 30,000 bears have taken the plunge over the past 21 years – many have done it multiple years. The bears have made the event one of the biggest charity events in the state and have raised more than $6.1 million for Special Olympics Delaware, including a record $650,000 this year.

The only other major event in the same ballpark is the annual Bike MS: Bike to the Bay with upwards of 2,000 bicyclists pedaling to support the Delaware Chapter of the National MS Society. Last year, cyclists raised $975,000.

I would hate to begin to guess how much money is raised each year in the Cape Region through charity events. The area is blessed to have people willing to give and people who are willing to sponsor events. There is a reason that two of the state's leading fund raisers have strong connections to southern Delaware.

So why do people do it?

Over the years, I've participated in many charitable events – and put on some as well – including the Polar Bear Plunge and Bike to the Bay. To me, helping a cause I believe in is at the top of the list, but it's also about accomplishment, especially when it comes to athletic events.

For the past few years I've supported Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation in its battle against cancer. Since 1997, Livestrong has raised $325 million.

I believe strongly in the work of the foundation and its founder, Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France. I was fortunate enough to ride with Armstrong in Washington, D.C., during the first year of his benefit events.

What touched me most during the event was a rally after the bike tour on the Washington Mall with thousands of cyclists, family members and friends. While Armstrong was speaking, he asked for a show of hands how many people had a family member or close friend touched by cancer. It's safe to say that more than three-quarters of the people raised their hands.

People also get involved because they have a personal connection to a cause.

And people do get involved. It's amazing to me that the top 20 charitable organizations in this country brought in more than $17 billion in cash and in-kind donations in 2011. That total doesn't count the amount raised by thousands of worthwhile organizations doing good work with support from you and me.

Many of the top 20 have an active presence in this area, including United Way, Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Habitat for Humanity, Nature Conservancy, American Heart Association and American Cancer Society. It's a safe bet that many reading this right now have donated to one or more of these organizations.

Not surprising is three of the top 20 are devoted almost exclusively to feeding the poor here and abroad. Others also have components of their programs aimed at food distribution. Many provide assistance to children.

Here is the list of the big 20 as complied by Forbes with the total amount of donations received in 2011:

1. United Way, $3.9 billion; 2. Salvation Army, $1.8 billion; 3. Feeding America, $1.1 billion; 4. American Red Cross, $1.1 billion; 5. Food for the Poor, $1.1 billion; 6. American Cancer Society, $900 million; 7. AmeriCares, $795 million (supplying medicine to Third World countries); 7. Catholic Charities USA, $795 million; 9. World Vision, $780 million; 10. YMCA, $770 million; 11. St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, $680 million; 12. Goodwill Industries, $645 million; 13. Boys and Girls Clubs of America, $615 million; 14. Habitat for Humanity International, $590 million; 15. Nature Conservancy, $525 million; 16. Feed the Children, $515 million; 17. Compassion International, $505 million; 17. American Heart Association, $505 million; 19. Campus Crusade for Christ, $460 million; and 20. UNICEF, $450 million.

Not far off the list at $209 million is the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which has been one of the most visible of all the big organizations over the past decade. In spite of the recent controversy involving Planned Parenthood, Komen has to be regarded as one of the most successful charitable organizations of all time involving a single cause. Since forming in 1982, Komen has invested nearly $2 billion for breast cancer research, education, advocacy, health services and social support programs.


  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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