South Mountain YMCA duck race returns to Maplewood Sept. 12

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The South Mountain YMCA is excited to bring ducks and families back to the river on Sunday, Sept. 12, for the iconic Memorial Day Duck Race, a cherished event in the Maplewood and South Orange community for more than 20 years. Though the race will not be held on Memorial Day, which was May 31 this past spring, it will still have all the verve.

“While the community came out in ‘virtual’ force to make the 2020 virtual duck race a huge success, we know people want to see their yellow-feathered friends back racing live this year,” South Mountain YMCA Executive Director James Goodger said. “Everyone can look forward to this beautiful annual tradition returning, with kids and families smiling, laughing and celebrating as the ducks float on by. Going virtual again on Memorial Day was an option, but like many, we just started to feel that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and if we had a chance to get back to the real tradition that the community loves, then we should do it.”

The duck race will be combined with a duck-themed Healthy Kids Day, the Y’s other longstanding annual tradition and national event, typically held in April. Combining these two events in Memorial Park in September will make for a fantastic DuckFest.

Proceeds from the race go toward the Y’s financial assistance program, which helps make Y programs such as child care affordable for families with extenuating circumstances, as well as the local nonprofit MEND. 

MEND Hunger Relief Network is the largest hunger relief network in Essex County. MEND will receive 20 percent, or up to $5,000, of the race proceeds, as the recipient of the Ellie Gianni Community Impact Grant. The award is named in memory of Ellie Gianni, aka “the Duck Lady,” who started the duck race 21 years ago.

With many people relying on food pantries to feed their families for the first time during COVID-19, MEND has so far provided more than 235,000 pounds of supplemental fresh and healthy food during the crisis. 

“MEND is honored to be selected as the inaugural Ellie Gianni Impact Grant recipient, and to partner with the South Mountain YMCA on this annual beloved event that brings so much joy to all who attend,” MEND Executive Director Robin Peacock said. “As we continue to support and strengthen local food pantries, and to increase fresh food access for all, we are mindful that this work would not be possible without the incredible support we have received from the community — including the YMCA, which opened up its gym to us at the beginning of the pandemic so that we could continue to ramp up hunger relief efforts despite not having a physical space of our own at the time. Ms. Gianni’s giving spirit shines through her daughter, Claire, who serves on our board, and we are extremely grateful for the impact their entire family has made locally.”

“My family is so grateful to have this impact grant named for my mom. She would be so honored to know that her memory is living on in the good that others are doing for the community,” Claire Gianni Sinclair said.

To learn about sponsorship opportunities, prize contributions, volunteering and more, contact 2021 Duck Race Committee Chairperson Denyse Reed at [email protected] or Goodger at [email protected] For information and updates about the race, visit