Rebecca Walker, left, and Sarah Merrigan react to the cold water of the West River as they take part in the sixth annual Plunge for Charity at the Marina
Rebecca Walker, left, and Sarah Merrigan react to the cold water of the West River as they take part in the sixth annual Plunge for Charity at the Marina in Brattleboro, in this 2011 file photo. (Reformer file photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- The first Plunge for Charity at The Marina restaurant raised about $1,900 nine years ago, and organizer Deirdre Baker was astonished by the number. But, in the seven plunges since then, big-hearted jumpers braving the frigid temperatures of the West River have blown that figure out of the water, raising as much as $12,000 in a single event.

The Marina's Ninth Annual Plunge for Charity is slated for 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 4, and Baker said there were 39 registered jumpers as of Monday, 30 more than nine years ago when a much smaller collection of people generated nearly $2,000 for The Gathering Place in Brattleboro. Baker said money will be raised this year for Windham County SAFE Kids, a local non-profit organization committed by way of public awareness to prevention of injury to children 14 years and younger.

Baker told the Reformer there is typically a different charitable cause each year, with the goal of selecting one as local as possible.

"If the money stays right here in the community, I'm all for it," she said, adding that the plunge has raised $60,000 for local nonprofits over the past nine years.

Employees from Flatter Me Hair Salon will be at the event offering $15 haircuts, with proceeds going to Windham County SAFE Kids.

Baker said people can call her to add their name to the list of jumpers and anyone can sponsor a jumper by filling out a form at www.wtsa.net or at The Marina, or by stopping by the plunge on Sunday. She expects participants to arrive at 2 p.m.


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, an hour before the jumps. The theme of last year's plunge was "Cinco de Mayo" and Baker told the Reformer the money generated went toward a ski tow at Brattleboro's Living Memorial Park. This year's event, according to Baker, has a "Star Wars" theme, as May 4 is unofficially known as "Star Wars Day." This date celebrates George Lucas' famous franchise and was chosen by fans due to "May the Fourth" bearing a resemblance to the phrase, "May the force be with you." Baker said she expects to see jumpers and supporters wearing some creative costumes.

"I probably have one of the greatest costumes, and I cannot divulge what it will be," she teased.

Pam Merrigan, one the managers of The Marina, said the plunge has grown in popularity over the years and now hosts people from Keene, N.H., and western Massachusetts.

"I feel it is the kick-off of the season, the kick-off of the warm weather. It brings people out and gets people dressed up," she said Wednesday afternoon. "It's an awesome day and it's family-friendly."

Merrigan also said there is usually some sort of special occasion -- such as an engagement, a birthday or an anniversary -- that occurs at the plunge.

"Not only is it special for the town," she said, "it's special for the employees who have been here year after year after year."

Baker told the Reformer the precursor to the event took place shortly before she began working at The Marina as a waitress and bartender. She explained there were two employees who shared a birthday and the pair decided to leap into the water "for no particular reason." Baker said she heard the story after taking her job at the restaurant and was inspired to figure out a way to turn it into an annual fundraiser.

Baker is a cancer survivor and said though she does not jump in the water, she never missed a plunge due to her disease. She said her 16-year-old son, Lucas Rawson, jumped in her name last year and will do the same on Sunday.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.