BEVERLY — Feb. 5 marks not only the return of the Patriots to the Super Bowl, but the day that hundreds of brave souls head back into the frigid waters of Beverly and Salem.
The sixth annual Polar Plunge is scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Lynch Park in Beverly and at Salem Willows in Salem.
The plunge has turned into one of the largest community events of the year in Beverly, where more than 200 people plunged last year and another 200 were on hand to watch and assist. Salem began participating last year and had more than 50 plungers at Salem Willows.
The event raises money for the North Shore Community Development Coalition, an affordable-housing agency based in Salem, and for River House, a homeless shelter in Beverly.
Mickey Northcutt, executive director of North Shore CDC, said the weak economy has heightened awareness of homelessness and the need for affordable housing.
"People don't take for granted that you have a roof over your head," he said.
The plunge has grown in large part due to the participation of schools.
All seven public schools in Beverly have formed teams, and three Salem schools have done the same.
Polar Plunge volunteer Deb Ploszay, one of the founders of the event, said plungers have been invited to tour River House and Holcroft Park Homes, the North Shore CDC's new affordable-housing development in Beverly, to see the benefits of their fundraising.
"It's a great educational piece so that kids understand what affordable housing is, what River House is, and why they're important to the community," Ploszay said.
Plungers raise money by soliciting sponsors. The event brought in approximately $25,000 last year.
Plungers who do a "double dip" — go in the water, out and back in — will get a $1 coupon toward a double-dip ice cream at Captain Dusty's Ice Cream.
"Double dippers" can pick up their coupons at the celebration party that will be held at the Vittori-Rocci Post in Beverly immediately after the plunge.
Last year's Polar Plunge was held on a relatively warm April day after snow forced a postponement. But for the most part, the event lives up to its name on its traditional Super Bowl date.
River House board member John Archer, who has participated in every Polar Plunge, said the temporary chill is nothing compared to the experiences of people who are homeless.
"For the few minutes for us to feel that unfortunate feeling is sort of a shared experience with these homeless gents," Archer said. "The moment of inconvenience compared to a lifetime of inconvenience hits home with the kids."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by email at email@example.com.
POLAR PLUNGE 2012
When: Sunday, Feb. 5; check-in at 11 a.m.; plunge at 12:30 p.m.
Where: Woodbury Beach at Lynch Park, Beverly; Dead Horse Beach at Salem Willows, Salem
Awards party: Vittori-Rocci Post in Beverly, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
More information: 978-825-4016 or firstname.lastname@example.org