WEST CHICAGO – While many area residents will avoid the cold this weekend by staying in front of their television sets with a hot drink and blanket, members of the West Chicago Police Department will plunge right into the icy temperatures at Yorkville’s Loon Lake Silver Springs State Park.
For the second year, West Chicago police officers are participating in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics’ annual Polar Plunge, which helps to raise money and awareness for the Olympic games.
“It’s for a good cause. You’re cold for a few seconds,” West Chicago Detective Robbi Peterson said. “But it’s definitely something you remember.”
In 2013, Peterson plunged with his daughter Taylor, together raising about $600. They will be joined this year by Peterson’s younger daughter, Isabella, Police Chief Laz Perez and West Chicago Elementary School District 33 Liaison Officer Meagan Perry.
This year, the West Chicago Police Department expects to raise about $1,500.
The department has long been part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, hosting events throughout the year that fundraise for Special Olympics. Peterson learned about the Polar Plunge when he began to transition into the role of the department’s Special Olympics liaison.
The Yorkville plunge is one of 20 taking place in Illinois. It will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The Torch Run began in 1981 in Wichita, Kansas. It started when Police Chief Richard LaMunyon saw a way to increase awareness of Special Olympics and get local law officers involved with the Olympic community, according to the Special Olympics website.
The Torch Run came to Illinois in 1986, and the first Polar Plunge was held in the state in 1999, said Cheryl De Paepe, area director for Special Olympics Illinois Starved Rock and leader for the Yorkville Polar Plunge site.
The close relationship between Special Olympics and law enforcement agencies has helped to provide the organization with important financial support, but it also has led to more involvement and volunteerism by the law enforcement agencies, De Paepe said.
“It’s tremendous on many levels,” she said.
Although the event falls under the umbrella of the Torch Run, anyone is welcome to participate in the Polar Plunge. To be part of the Yorkville site, plungers must raise at least $75.
More than $100,000 was raised at the Yorkville site in 2013. De Paepe hopes to increase that amount to $114,000 this year.
So far, 427 people are registered to plunge at Loon Lake, the largest number the site has seen, De Paepe said.
Participants are encouraged to have fun with the event, and many dress in costumes, Peterson said.
Other ways the West Chicago Police Department supports the Special Olympics include events such as Cop on Top, Tip a Cop, trivia nights, charity basketball games, car shows and more.
This year, the department will host its first motorcycle show at West Chicago’s annual Railroad Days celebration.
In addition to their support of Special Olympics, West Chicago police officers also hold an annual gift drive for Toys for Tots. In the past, officers fundraised for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity that supports childhood cancer research.
Perez said these types of efforts allow officers to have positive interactions with the public.
“I think it builds a trusting relationship with the community,” he said. “We’re here to serve them.”