Best friends Michael Sojak, 8, and Ava Raspanti, 7, bundled in their coats, stood behind yellow tape, pointing their fingers at two dogs jumping in and out of the Great South Bay.
Moments later, their eyes jumped to the 75 people sprinting down Amityville Village Beach, against the wind and plunging into the 44-degree water.
Michael’s family was one of many to plunge into the water Saturday during the 5th Annual Long Island Polar Dip to raise money for Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The event raised $15,123 and brought nearly a hundred spectators to the beach on an overcast 50-degree day.
For years, Camp Sunshine has provided Michael and his family a getaway after his diagnosis with hepatoblastoma, the most common form of liver cancer in children. He was diagnosed at 11 months, but he is now in remission, said his mother, Lucy Sojak.
“Plunging is a picnic compared to what kids with cancer go through,” she said. “Michael received six rounds of chemo at 11 months old.”
The Farmingdale family has been going to Camp Sunshine since Michael was 5 and has been plunging ever since. At the this year’s event, Sojak’s family and friends raised $4,500.
This year Camp Sunshine has raised just more than $359,000 through polar plunges in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Virginia, according to its website.
The camp’s goal was to raise $20,000 at this plunge to send 10 to 15 Long Island families to the camp for one week, which provides families with a place to stay, meals, on-site medical care and recreation.
Fundraising efforts like polar plunges help pay the $2,000 it costs for one family to spend a week at the camp, according to Nancy Cincotta, the psychosocial director at Camp Sunshine.
Cincotta said the nonprofit is dependent on donations and hopes to bring 800 families to the camp this year.
“Your life can feel like it’s falling apart when you’re going through having a child with a brain tumor or cancer, so it’s a place where you can stop feeling crazy and start feeling like you’re pretty normal because everyone else there is like you,” Cincotta said.
East Williston resident Charlene Eckhoff, who has volunteered at Camp Sunshine with her family since 2007, organized the Amityville event.
“The camp is great because you don’t know who is sick and who is not,” she said. “No one is treated any differently. This plunge is really about creating awareness that people can afford this, it’s free.”