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Eastern Rugby, Covenant Soup Kitchen Take the ‘Plunge for Hunger’

Published on February 07, 2023

Eastern Rugby, Covenant Soup Kitchen Take the ‘Plunge for Hunger’

Men's Rugby Coach Ray Aramini prepares attendees to take the plunge.

Plungers Heidi Groeger '05 (left) and Lori Riley show off their penguin costumes.

More plungers show off their crazy costumes.

Eastern Connecticut State University’s men’s rugby team hosted the 12th annual Olga Ezis “Plunge for Hunger” on Feb. 4 at Lauter Park in Willimantic. For the first time in two years, the event was held live. The annual plunge benefits the Covenant Soup Kitchen.

More than 100 volunteers dove into the frigid water. Among them were Covenant volunteers, Windham public school students, Willimantic first responders, friends, family and Eastern rugby players. 

Even in the absence of in-person festivities, the success of the plunge persisted: During the two years when the plunge was virtual, the rugby team still raised about $120,000 for Covenant. “Just seeing everybody back, everybody is excited and everybody wants to do it again,” said Devin Rodriguez, public relations officer of the men’s rugby team.

As donations continue to be mailed into Covenant, those affiliated with the event are still awaiting the total amount of money raised at this year’s plunge.

Two plungers dressed as unicorns brace themselves for the task at hand... or hoof.

Team members enjoy different favorite aspects of the day’s festivities. “My favorite part is that you see alumni and people you haven’t seen in a long time,” said Rodriguez. “This is a time where everybody shows up and you get to see everybody and have fun together.”

“Definitely costumes,” said Jamison Welch. “The way everybody looks and shows up, it’s ridiculous.”

This year, Welch’s teammates did not disappoint with their costumes. Wesley Buzelle showed up in a pink floral nightgown. “This was a bit of an improvised costume courtesy of Coach Ray (Aramini) himself,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez dressed in a blue cape, mask and t-shirt with a unicorn on it. “I wanted to make up my own superhero,” he said. His unicorn shirt was in honor of two fellow plungers who wore inflatable unicorn suits. “I wanted to be the superhero of the unicorns,” he said.

Lone Stranger
The Lone Stranger and his trusty steed, Sliver.

It was not just students who wore crazy costumes. A 72-year-old man who refers to himself as the Lone Stranger arrived on his trusty steed, Sliver. He played on Eastern’s 1968 national championship soccer team and was a lifeguard at Lauter Park 50 years ago. He loves Eastern and attended the plunge to support Coach Ray Aramini and the rugby team.

Meanwhile, a group of women headed by Leigh Valliere showed up in tiaras, referring to themselves as the Plunging Queens. Valliere explained that they chose this name because they were “older ladies” taking the plunge. “Good thing there are EMTs here to save us,” she joked.

Heidi Groeger ’05 and Lori Riley, mother of Kate Barry ’22, took the plunge dressed as penguins, carrying flotation tubes that matched their costumes. The outfits were Groeger’s idea; this was her first plunge. Riley has taken it three or four times; in 2020, she dressed up as the Little Mermaid.

Coach Aramini said he was humbled by the impact of the event. “To me, it’s multifold,” he said. “Everybody here wants to be here. It’s just pure love. I’m honored that I’m the coach of this team.

“If we’re going to be effective in feeding the poor, we need to be lean and not wasteful,” he continued. “Every dollar is profit for the soup kitchen. This is only about feeding people.”

Donations still can be made through “You’ll find a polar bear on their website, so just click on that and it will send you straight to a donation link,” said Rodriguez.

Written by Noel Teter