Lake County Bar president offers polar plunge, gets pie to face to help the hungry

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What began with a desire to help and an offhanded comment about jumping into Lake Michigan has ended with the Lake County Bar Association raising a record $15,000 for the Northwest Indiana Food Bank.

“There are people who are committed to doing good things,” Lake County Bar Association President Alfredo Estrada said. “I simply came up with the idea, and shortly after a lot of individuals jumped in not only here in my law firm but also at the bar association.”

The “Freezin for a Reason: March Against Hunger” campaign was held in March to help provide meals to hungry families and individuals. A past fundraiser for the food bank had reaped $10,000, which prompted Estrada to quip, “Hey, if we could double this, I’ll jump in the lake.”

Thus, the ambitious goal of $20,000 was set, and the incentive offered to donors was the opportunity to make Estrada take a dip in Lake Michigan on April 2. Emails soon began circulating daily at his firm, Burke Costanza & Carberry, charting the temperature of the water in the lake.

Estrada has taken a polar plunge in the past. He acknowledged there were some reinvigorating effects afterward but, he said, going into the water then getting pelted with the wind when emerging from the waves, “It’s brutal, it’s not fun.”

The bar association president ultimately will not be forging through icy waters because the tally fell short of the goal. However, the fun created by a potential polar swim helped draw attention to the serious issue of food insecurity.

As Estrada noted in his bar association letter introducing the fundraiser, the COVID-19 pandemic left a lot of plates empty and increased the demand for assistance. In 2020, the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana provided 9 million meals, nearly double the 5.07 million meals provided in 2019.

However, the bar association president did not have to see the data to understand the skyrocketing need in the community. Estrada said he continues to be stunned by the photos he saw of people standing outside the Northwest Indiana Food Bank in Merrillville in lines that stretched for blocks.

The shutdown and job loss caused by the coronavirus forced many adults into the humbling position of having to ask for help to feed their children. Estrada said he realized the people he met just going through his everyday routine could be struggling to find enough to eat.

“There’re individuals within our communities who on a day-to-day basis don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Estrada said. “That’s scary. So I guess that’s one thing that resonated with me when I looked online, looked at the photos of the individuals in the food bank volunteering their time and efforts to feed individuals in a line that was blocks long.”

By mid-March, donations were below $5,000, so Estrada, again, offered some motivation. He told his colleagues at his law firm that if they raised $150 during the office’s St. Patrick’s Day pitch-in lunch, he would take a pie to the face.

The dollars rolled in and Estrada followed through. He slipped a large garbage bag over his suit and tie, dutifully sat in a chair and did not flinch as Martha Gallegos Contreras, the immigration paralegal at his firm, gently hit his face with a whipped cream pie.

Video: See Estrada take a pie to the face

“It showed them I am willing to do anything to raise money for this campaign,” Estrada said.

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