A young polar bear swimmer showed true community spirit by plunging daily in the cold ocean this winter for two local community groups.
Sylas Thompson, 11, showed true community spirit by raising more than $37,000 for two local groups that support people struggling with poverty, the Women’s Resource Centre and Grassroots Kind Hearts.
The campaign began on Feb. 1, when he pledged to swim everyday in the ocean until he’d gathered $30,000 in donations. He ultimately surpassed that goal by a long shot.
“I’m not trying to brag or anything, but I feel proud of myself that I could do that, that I could push myself to do that and go in the water everyday,” said Thompson in April.
His polar bears swims continued for 36 consecutive days amid low temperatures that broke records stretching back to 1958. Those included Feb. 10 (-13 C), Feb. 11 (-15.5 C), Feb. 26 (-10 C) and Feb. 27 (-10 C). Overall, the month was also colder than an average February and was marked by extraordinary snowfall. Thompson was unfazed by these frigid conditions.
The campaign also shone a light on poverty in Campbell River, raising awareness about the struggles of homeless people during a period when the resources of local shelters were stretched especially thin. Children learned about some of these issues as Thompson spoke about his campaign in two schools.
Thompson’s updates on Facebook and YouTube also helped generate awareness, and people from throughout the community showed their support with donations. Some brave individuals even joined him for a swim.
The effort may well inspire future fundraising initiatives. Thompson followed in the footsteps of his late uncle “Polar Bear” Jake Hebenton, who previously raised funds for the BC Elders Gathering and the local food bank by swimming off Tyee Spit in the early 2000s.
After Hebenton’s death in 2011, his cousin Eddy Cliffe launched another polar bear swim campaign at the same spot.
The groups that Thompson’s campaign supported provide critical services. Grassroots Kind Hearts provides a daily hot meal to homeless people and others struggling with poverty.
The Women’s Resource Centre offers a wide range of services, including a poverty relief program that provides essentials like personal hygiene products, clothing and linens.
Thompson said he’s thinking about doing another campaign, likely in 2021. He said more efforts are needed to help people struggling with poverty.
“There should be more money raised,” he said. “This should keep on going on…There’s gotta be more money to get more resources for homeless people.”