Winter Fest: Brave souls to plunge into Lake Paran, then vote on chili and ice sculptures

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NORTH BENNINGTON — It's time to pull out the swim trunks.

North Bennington's annual Penguin Plunge at Lake Paran will take place on Saturday, Jan. 16, hosted by the Special Olympics and Vermont Country Store.

Over the years, more than 1,400 people have dived into Vermont's icy lakes in January to raise funds and increase awareness for the Special Olympics athletes. The Vermont Country Store's team has raised $30,000 over the past three years, according to Liza Reed, the marketing and partnerships director for Special Olympics Vermont.

Registration is $25 and is still open for those looking to participate. So far, the top fundraising teams include the Vermont Country Store, $415; Training for More, $310; Southshire Frozen Cats, $293; Windham County Penguins, $25; and Frost Dogs, $25. Participants may join a team or as an individual. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. and plungers take off at 11 a.m.

Registered plungers receive a hat and a towel and those who raise $500 or more qualify for fundraising incentives.

A Penguin Plunge also occurs in Burlington and has raised more than $450,000 or 45 percent of the Special Olympics operating budget, according to its website. The athletic organization runs competitions in 13 Olympic-type sports for more than 1,140 children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

To escape the cold, a variety of chili types and flavors will be served by the NorShaft Lions Club as part of the North Bennington Winter Festival.

The eighth annual chili festival runs from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. in the Community Room of St. John the Baptist Church on Houghton Street. A wagon ride will be available to bring attendees from the Penguin Plunge to the church, according to a release from NorShaft Lions Club Secretary Phylis Porio.

This year's chilis include white bean chicken, chocolate, vegan, sausage, and the traditional mild, medium and hot. A $5 donation is suggested for six samples, which are three ounces each and include toppings of cheddar cheese, sour cream and onions.

"Lions members sign up for a specific category and then are free to use whatever recipe and ingredients they want to create their chili," Porio said in an email.

Proceeds help fun NorShaft's annual scholarship program, awarding $1,000 each to five graduating seniors in Shaftsbury and North Bennington. Scholarship applications are available at the Mount Anthony Union High School counselor's office.

The ice sculpture contest runs from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. at the North Bennington Train Station. Two blocks of ice cost $230 and $310 for three blocks. Prizes will be awarded at 3 p.m.

Various other community members and organizations will also be present.

To learn more about Vermont's Special Olympics, visit SpecialOlympicsVermont.org.

To register for the Penguin Plunge, visit PenguinPlunge.org/north-bennington.

For more information on Winter Fest events, visit bennington.com

If you go ...

North Bennington Winter Festival events: Saturday, Jan. 16, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Penguin Plunge: Registration at 8:30 a.m. at the Lake Paran Boat Launch. Plunge at 11 a.m.

Pre-Plunge Warm Up: With Zumba and Optionz Health & Fitness at 10:45 a.m. noon to 4 p.m.

Indoor Winter Carnival: Noon to 4 p.m. at the Village School.

Chili Fest: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Community Room of St. John the Baptist Church on Houghton Street.

Ice Sculpture Contest: North Bennington Train Station. 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Prizes awarded at 3 p.m.


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