Ten thousand yellow rubber ducks were piled up in a large crate Saturday at Noble Park, just waiting for their moment in the spotlight at the sixth annual PaDucky Derby.
Around 3 p.m., a Paducah Power System truck hoisted the crate into the air and released the little ducks to splash down into the water of Lake Montgomery. A large pack of them made their way across a sectioned off area of the pond, with assistance from Paducah firefighter Shae McKinney, who sprayed a fire hose to provide the current. Many stayed back by the start.
The event serves as one of two main annual fundraisers conducted by the Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center in Paducah. Typically held in April, this year’s PaDucky Derby was delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but it ended up coinciding with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“We are funded through state, federal and local grants, private foundations and donors, but we still have those two special events,” said Mary Foley, executive director for the Merryman House.
“... This is the sixth race and it’s grown every year, but this is the first year we’ve sold completely out. I think now, more than ever, the demand for our services is going up and I think we see everyday the need. And so, the race really is directly correlated to us being positioned to meet the needs and execute our mission.”
The fastest three ducks won a total of $4,000. The grand prize ($2,500) goes to Jennifer Jenks of Michigan, while Paducah residents Lora Croley and Tim Henschel won second place ($1,000) and third place ($500), respectively.
With sponsorships and rubber duck adoptions, the fundraiser garnered “well over” $50,000 in profits for the Merryman House’s services to support domestic violence survivors. Every rubber duck was adopted by 5 p.m. Friday, meeting the Merryman House’s 10,000 adoptions goal.
The PaDucky Derby was also shown online for the community to watch, as Neal Bradley — or “The Voice of the Racers” — called the race. He later announced the winners, while accompanied by Foley and “Quacky” the duck.
Foley said she loves how there’s a place to “everybody to connect” with the PaDucky Derby, as children and adults can get involved.
“It offers a unique opportunity to have a really difficult conversation around a really fun event and I also love it because most everybody can do $5 (the cost of a duck adoption),” she added.
“So, there’s an entry point for everybody, where it’s businesses, individuals — wherever you are on that financial spectrum — there’s a place for you to get involved and I just love that.”
One part of the race is a small group of kayakers, which served to help corral the rubber ducks and fish out the winners. Each one of them had an identifying number. Judd Myers, board chairman for Merryman House, was one of four people in kayaks who braved the water on a chilly day.
“It goes to a great cause — brings awareness to the situation also,” Myers said. “I would love to get it more popular every year, but it’s a great cause. You couldn’t ask for a better group than the Merryman House.”
As for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Foley described it as a time to highlight the lethality of the issue, its pervasiveness and the devastating consequences. She said it’s an opportunity to help people connect with services, as well as with the support and validation they may need.
“Domestic Violence Awareness Month gives us an opportunity to speak the name of victims that have lost their lives this year in Kentucky, but it also just gives us an opportunity to highlight the real issue that we have here in our community,” she said.
Foley said it serves more than 1,000 victims a year.
“It just helps us to be able to offer hope and, so I think, if we didn’t have the ability to move past the issue and into the hope — gosh — what a dark picture that would be.”
Her message is simple. Domestic violence is “real and it’s horrible,” but there is support and people do care. It doesn’t only happen to a certain type of person, she said. The organization is seeing an increase in numbers this year.
“I’d say it’s been months since we have been at capacity,” Foley said.
“We’ve been over capacity for months, so we shelter anywhere between 40 and 60 individuals at any given time. Crisis line calls tend to not necessarily be up, but be more acute when we get them. We will supersede the numbers of past years, this year.”
That’s something she thinks is related to the COVID-19 pandemic and to awareness.
“I also think anytime you have an extra stressor or something that isolates further — the risk goes up,” she added.