Although many near-frostbitten Philadelphians are anxiously awaiting summer, when they can dive into a pool to escape the sweltering heat, members of the city’s LGBT and ally swim team are gearing up to take to the lanes this weekend to raise money for a local nonprofit.
The Philadelphia Fins are hosting their annual Postal Swim competition, which will raise money for Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutritional Alliance, an organization that provides nutritional meals to local individuals struggling with life-threatening illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. tomorrow at Friends Select School, 1651 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The 11th annual event has raised about $20,000 for such local organizations as the William Way LGBT Community Center, The Attic Youth Center and Equality Advocates Pennsylvania.
This year, about 30 Fins swimmers will complete as many laps as they can during the two one-hour sessions of the event, and their stats will then be sent — via the U.S. Post Office — to the United States Masters Swimming, which orchestrates Postal Swims across the nation. USMS will compare the results of all the Postal Swims and distribute awards in both gender and age categories.
Fins vice president Kacie King said swimmers can ask for sponsors to contribute a certain amount of money for every lap they complete, and that the team will also set up donation jars at the event. Donations will be collected through Feb. 14, with half of the proceeds going to MANNA and the other half to fund the team.
King said the Fins recently had to raise their membership dues to help cover coaching and other costs, and that some of the money from the Postal Swim will be used to keep the dues from increasing any further and to provide lower-cost options for interested members who can’t afford the fees.
“We’re still one of the lower-priced teams of all of the LGBTQ Masters teams, and we want to keep it that way so that we’re accessible to as many people as possible,” King said.
Last year, the Postal Swim raised about $3,000 and contributed half of it to LGBT health clinic Mazzoni Center; King said the team is looking to garner between $3,000-$4,000 from tomorrow’s fundraiser.
The team chose MANNA after learning that the organization was forced to scale back some of its services because of decreased funding, King said.
“Given the current economic situation, we figured it’s important to donate to an organization that’s basically doing lifesaving work. And one of our board members did some research of different organizations that were lower on funding this year, and we saw that MANNA was one of them, so we wanted to make sure we could give what we could to them.”
Rob Saxon, director of resource development at MANNA, said the money donated through the event will go to the organization’s direct-operations fund, which fuels the production and delivery of meals.
“This will help us to deliver nourishment and improve health,” Saxon said. “It’s a privilege to work with the Fins. They have partnered with us on various events in the past and they always have been firm supporters of MANNA.”
Fins president Anh Dang said the Postal Swim is his favorite event of the year because “it creates a connection between the team and the Philadelphia LGBTQ communities. The event blends three main aspects of the Fins: swimming, social and community service.”
Dang encouraged visitors to wear clothing that they don’t mind getting wet in, as the pool’s small deck occasionally results in spectators getting splashed. The participants, however, are urged to wear their craziest, most colorful swimsuits, and Dang said he “wouldn’t be surprised if someone shows up in drag.”
The Fins accept members from all walks of life and all athletic abilities, which King said creates a diverse and welcoming environment.
“One of the great things about the Fins is the community we build and the warm and fun presence at our events. It’s a community that’s worth supporting and even with something as simple as lap-swimming, everyone will be joking around and socializing,” she said. “When we went to the [International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics] Igloo Championship last year, one of the things that really stood out to me was how enthusiastic this team is. If there was a prize for team spirit, we would have won hands-down.”
For more information about the Postal Swim, visit www.philadelphia-fins.org
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].