YMCA takes over duck training for Memorial Day race

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The annual Memorial Day Duck Race will take on some new features this year as the Maplewood Kiwanis Club hands the reins of the annual post-parade event in Memorial Park over to the South Mountain YMCA.

The Duck Race, now in its 18th year, has been a staple event during local Memorial Day festivities and was run by the Maplewood Kiwanis Club in partnership with other local organizations until this year.

After working with the Kiwanis Club for the past few years to learn the ropes, the South Mountain YMCA will now host the event, and the YMCA staff’s excitement is contagious, according to Rob Harrigan, chairman of the board of managers for the South Mountain YMCA.

“The Kiwanis Club started it with Charlie and Ellie Gianni spearheading the Duck Race, and it started as a very simple fundraiser for children’s programs in the area,” Harrigan said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “We’ve been the recipients of the funds, and we’ve also been fortunate to have a lot of the Kiwanis Club members serve as volunteers on the board for the Y.”

According to Harrigan, the South Mountain YMCA is both excited and honored to be taking over the Duck Race.

“About three years ago the Kiwanis Club approached us about taking over the duck race, and this will be our first year running it on our own,” he said. “It’s something that we’re very proud of and something that the community looks forward to over the Memorial Day weekend. We’ve had a lot of fun promoting the event.”

Harrigan also said that the South Mountain Y is proud to continue the tradition of donating all proceeds to various children’s programs, as the Kiwanis Club did.

“We wanted to highlight that, same as before, all proceeds will go to the same children’s charities that the Kiwanis Club supported, including the South Mountain YMCA, the Department of Child Protection and Permanency, the South Orange and Maplewood libraries, local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, local food pantries and the Valerie Fund,” he said. “It’s only one day a year, but it’s our community’s reminder that children in need are being taken care of.”

In addition to continuing some of the customs that the Maplewood Kiwanis Club built around the Duck Race, the South Mountain YMCA will be adding a few new elements to this year’s event.

For business sponsors who donated $100 or more, the beloved duck in costume could be seen around town visiting their stores and greeting customers.

Another new addition to the build-up for the Duck Race this year is the duck-shaped window clings given to every organization or person who either donated a prize or sponsored the event. And those racing ducks this year will notice that the addition of inflatable sharks and crocodiles will make the river a bit trickier to navigate successfully.

Prizes this year were donated by several local businesses, including gift certificates from Ricalton’s, Stony’s, Beacon Jewelers, South Orange Frame Shop, Maple Leaf Diner and St. James’s Gate.

Participants will also have a chance to win prizes such as two tickets to a Mets game donated by Maplewood Stationers, a 48-inch Samsung Ultra HD TV or an 8-inch Kindle Fire donated by the South Mountain YMCA, or a one-night stay at Les Saisons Bed and Breakfast, among many others.

“The Maplewood Kiwanis Club has been transitioning the event to us over the past couple of years. Last year was a partnership, and this year we are taking it over entirely,” South Mountain Executive Director James Goodger said in a recent interview with the News-Record. “Our marketing strategy this year has been a little different; we’re really playing up the duck theme.

“Each staff member has a duck and takes a picture with it wherever they go, and we have ducks flying in from all over the world, ‘going quackers’ for this event,” Goodger continued. “The staff is really excited about it, and we’re very lucky that we have a responsive community that wants to support a great cause.”

Also new this year, residents can buy tickets online at Eventbrite, in addition to purchasing them in local stores.

“This event really does have an impact on the community because all of the proceeds go to help kids. All money donated to the South Mountain Y will go to our financial-assistance programs,” Goodger said. “The campaign evens the playing field because some of the children who come to the Y’s programs will be on scholarship, and some will not. It will be diverse in socioeconomic status and will show a true slice of the community.”

Tickets can be purchased at the following Maplewood locations: South Mountain YMCA Welcome Center at 13 Jefferson Ave., Early Childhood Learning Center at 10 West Parker Ave. and Maplewood Stationers at 171 Maplewood Ave. Online tickets can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/duck-race-tickets-23122317474\.

Photos Courtesy of James Goodger