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13th annual Swim with FISH charity event raises $56K for local food bank

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Natural beauty, thriving waterfront and a sense of serenity – residents extol the virtues of the popular maritime community.
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Natural beauty, thriving waterfront and a sense of serenity – residents extol the virtues of the popular maritime community.

Choppy and cold waters did not stop 21 swimmers from crossing the Colvos Passage from Vashon Island to Point Richmond Beach to help raise money for the Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank on Saturday, July 27.

Swim with FISH, celebrating its 13th year of existence, started off as neighbors Steve Rees and Peter Bortel thinking that they could swim across the passage for fun. Now, it’s a major charity event for the local food bank.

For the last seven years, Swim with FISH expanded on their mission to give back to their community in the form of raising funds for the food bank as the summer months tend to be the slowest time of year for donations.

“One of the reasons we are proud to help them is that this time of year, they tell us that their shelves are bare,” said Rees. “People are thinking about other things. In the winter time, people think more about the food bank but not during their dry season.”

In order to participate in the swim, swimmers are encouraged to raise at least $350 in donations through a “donate to your swimmer” tab on the food bank’s website.

Local businesses were also canvassed to donate as well, including companies like Heritage Distilling and First Choice Bank. Altogether, the swimmers raised $28,380 for FISH this year and $120,395 since collecting donations from participants.

“We try not to handle the money ourselves, but [the swimmers] can ask friends,” Rees said. “We have a person that’s a librarian and she puts out a thing at the library.”

This year, Jeff Sala finished the race first with a time of 24 minutes and 48 seconds. Behind him was last year’s winner Joanne Kirby, finishing at 27:30.

Rees was the first swimmer to reach the shore without any fins or snorkel gear either, coming in at 31:01. Most of the participants noted that the choppiness of the water added to their time.

Once finished, swimmers and everyone attending the event celebrated another successful year of Swim with FISH with a potluck feast and drinks donated by Heritage.

On hand during the festivities was Ron Coen, board president of FISH sharing kind words and thanks with the group that put on the event.

“This really helps a great deal. It’s all gone to operations in the past,” he said. “Last year, among many things that happened, it helped nine people graduate from college, helped people who had emergencies with finances and over 200,000 meals provided last year.”

After the attendants settled in after the race, Coen stepped up to the microphone and made the biggest announcement of the day.

Thanks to a couple of grants given by Chapel Hill Church in Gig Harbor and the state of Washington, every dollar that was donated to FISH on Saturday will be doubled for a total of just over $56,000.

“We are looking to build a new facility so we can do even more,” Coen said. “The great thing is many of the swimmers are young people. That speaks well for the future, and not just for events like this. When you have young people that involved in the community, that makes a huge difference.”

To learn more about FISH and to donate, please visit www.ghpfish.org.

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