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Hundreds take 'the plunge' for local soup kitchen

Published on February 06, 2024

Hundreds take 'the plunge' for local soup kitchen

13th annual Plunge for Hunger benefits Covenant Soup Kitchen

Volunteers take the "plunge."
Volunteers "plunge" into the Natchaug River for the Olga Ezis Plunge for Hunger at Lauter Park in Willimantic on Feb. 3, 2024.

For the 13th year, the Eastern Connecticut State University men’s rugby team led the charge as hundreds of community members dove into the freezing cold Natchaug River to help feed the hungry. The annual Olga Ezis Plunge for Hunger took place on Feb. 3 at noon at Lauter Park in Willimantic, with more than 700 people in attendance.

The Plunge for Hunger is a fundraiser for the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic. Last year’s Plunge raised $110,000, and this year’s fundraising goal is $150,000. The initiative received a head start in January with a $3,000 donation from Eastern’s union for administrative faculty, SUOAF, which was then matched by a $3,000 contribution from the Windham-based Pageau Trust.

Ray Aramini, coach of the rugby team, has supported Covenant’s cause for several decades. Still, this year’s Plunge brought new participants. “We have so many people here we’ve never seen,” said Aramini. Many familiar faces also attended, as more than 100 current and former players on the team were present.

The moment of truth: volunteers rush into the water.

Volunteers pose for a group photo at the 13th annual Olga Ezis Plunge for Hunger.

Fellow student-athletes from the Eastern's women's lacrosse team took the Plunge.

Volunteers flocked to the 13th annual Olga Ezis Plunge for Hunger.

Members of the Central Connecticut State University's men's rugby team took the plunge.

As in years past, volunteers wore costumes as they charged into the freezing river. Several Eastern rugby players, including team Vice President Evan Baptista, wore elaborate costumes, even if their level of planning did not match their vibrant look.

In the case of Baptista, his costume was something of a charitable donation from Aramini. “He’s got tens and tens of costumes,” said Baptista.

Danny Gallagher, Baptista’s teammate, “threw everything together” to create his costume, a hybrid of Batman and a clown. Gallagher echoed several participants’ thoughts on the new volunteers who turned out this year. “There are so many faces I don’t know,” he said.

Many familiar faces were also seen at the Plunge, including recent Eastern graduate Emily Ostar ’23 and Melody Ochoa, graduate intern at Eastern’s Office of Student Activities. “We did this last year,” said Ostar.

“It’s awesome seeing all the participants come together to support not just rugby, but the Willimantic community,” said Ostar, who commuted from Southbury to take the Plunge this year.

The Plunge also received support from other groups of student athletes. A group of players on Eastern’s women’s lacrosse team took the Plunge this year. “It makes you think about your privilege and brings the community together,” said senior Chloe Miller, who plays attack and serves as captain of the team.


Maria Allegro '87 has earned the title of "Plunge Queen" for her contributions through the years.

Melody Ochoa (left) and Emily Ostar '23

Rugby coach Ray Aramini

Evan Baptista (left) and Devin Rodriguez of the men's rugby team

Danny Rodriguez of the men's rugby team

So, how does running into the icy river really feel? A group of volunteers from the Central Connecticut State University men’s rugby team summed it up. “It’s going to hit me in about 10 minutes,” said Wyatt Bernard.

“It hit me in about 10 seconds,” said Joe Druin. “My toes feel stiff.”

“I don’t even feel like I have toes,” added Dylan McVicker.

“It never gets warmer,” said Nancy Aramini-Francis, Aramini’s “older, better-looking sister.”

This year’s Plunge was also supported by several other longtime volunteers. Eastern alumna Maria Allegro ’87, Aramini’s “friend for many years,” added this year’s Plunge to the long list of fundraising events for Covenant where she has assisted.

“Wherever (Aramini) goes, he gets people to want to join him,” said Allegro. “I’m proud to see the number of people who have joined.”

Several alumni of Eastern’s men’s rugby team also returned for this year’s Plunge. “Everybody loves it here,” said Ben Vandine ’20. “People are coming back from 10 and 15 years ago.”

One of these people is Christian Arciuolo, who was the president of Eastern’s men’s rugby team during the inaugural Plunge for Hunger in 2011. “(We raised) $2,000 going door to door in the dorms,” Arciuolo recalled.

Aramini is proud to see how fundraising efforts for Covenant Soup Kitchen have evolved over the years. All volunteers “knocked it out of the park” at this year’s Plunge, said Aramini. “It’s one thing to talk about feeding the hungry. It’s another thing to be doers.”

To Aramini, being a “doer” can be accomplished through acts large or small: “You don’t have to go in the water, you don’t have to bike, but you can always support the soup kitchen.”

To donate to Covenant Soup Kitchen, visit:

Written by Noel Teter