Celebrating Ducky Derby's 25th Anniversary
● By Brandi Barnett
Lucky DuckSeptember 2014
By Carrie Schmeck
It’s not about the ducks. That’s what Marge Beck says, anyway.
Ignore the impressive mass of bright yellow rubber ducks cascading over Redding’s Diestelhorst Bridge every September for a moment. Look past enticing prizes such as $5,000 cash, a San Francisco Giants baseball weekend for four and a half-carat diamond pendant. And forget about reaching for your checkbook to appease the adorable kid on your doorstep selling tickets to raise money for camp or a sober grad party or a band trip.
The Ducky Derby is not about those things, says Beck. Known as the Ducky Derby Queen, she’d be the one to know. For 10 years, she’s devoted much of her time to orchestrating the annual fundraising event. This is about outcomes, she says.
Twenty-five years ago, community groups pondered options to fund programs that would be a positive influence on local kids. They figured if they could help pay for enticing programs and activities, the kids would be less likely to turn to drugs and alcohol. When they landed on the Ducky Derby fundraising format, they knew they’d found a winner. The community embraced the idea and now, every August and September, many in Redding expect to adopt a duck or two from neighbors and nieces. The big duck drop, to be held this year on Sept. 28, is a highly anticipated community event. “We’ve all been touched by substance abuse, whether a family member or a friend,” she says. “That’s why I do this.”
The “duck drop” is essentially a rubber duck race. Thousands of rubber ducks marked with encoded numbers that correspond with raffle tickets are dropped into the Sacramento River, where they bob and wobble toward a finish line. The winners are plucked from the water and reunited with the names of the winning benefactors.
Over the years, the Ducky Derby morphed into a project funneled through the Redding East Rotary club and is just shy of lifetime gross receipts of $4 million. “We’d really to break that cap this year,” says Beck who is especially excited about offering 25 prizes marking this year’s silver anniversary derby.
What is unique about this fundraiser is its return on the dollar for participating groups. Once event expenses, which run about $25,000, are met, participants get 100 percent of every dollar raised. In 2007, the group distributed $230,000, its highest gift ever. Last year, participants earned $172,000. “I’m so grateful for this community. They are so generous,” says Beck. “It’s a testament that people here value our youth.”
But the event is really about students like Rosie McLearn, one of three children raised by a single mother. After years of moving from state to state, mostly living in a van, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and deemed unable to care for her kids. A ward of foster care, Rosie recognized that with her childhood, “there have been many opportunities to have a negative outlook on life and go down the wrong path.” However, she writes in a letter to the Rotary, the funding from Ducky Derby allowed her life experiences she would have never had, such as a Shasta Lake camping expedition where she pitched a tent and learned about teamwork and exploration. “When kids like me are given these experiences, we are shown positive paths in a life full of negative ones.”
Beck’s eyes water as she shares Rosie’s story, clearly touched by the impact these plastic ducks make. “I feel like if I can stop one kid from going down that path, it’s worth it.”
Ducky Derby’s 25th Anniversary
Sept. 28, Caldwell Park
It’s not too late to participate!
Non-profit groups who would like to sell tickets for their organization should visit ReddingDuckyDerby.com.
Follow the link to "Sellers Info."