BENSON — It was all Joy and Jack Reilly could do to stay composed Thursday evening after learning the Benson Area Food Bank would be receiving a $9,300 donation.
The Reillys were special guests of SKP Saguaro Co-op (RV park) in Benson for the park’s 12th annual Polar Bear Party. The polar bear event raises money for the Benson Area Food Bank, which Joy and Jack have been managing for the past 10 years.
On this night, the couple were consumed with emotion when they heard the donation amount, accompanied by cheers and applause from the 245 residents that filled SKP park’s clubhouse.
“About 500 people a week come through the Benson food bank for assistance,” Joy said. “This donation means so much to us. We thank all the people at SKP park for their continuous generosity and support.”
Along with the monetary donation, park residents collected more than 2,640 pounds of non-perishable food items.
Mike and Gail Lenney, SKP residents who have been organizing the party since 2015, said Thursday’s party raised more money and food donations than in past events, and surpassed their expectations.
“Last year we raised $6,030, so we went over that amount by $3,000 and donations are still trickling in,” Gail said during an interview on Friday. “We also collected two cargo trucks of canned food. None of this would be possible without all these incredible people, working together and volunteering their time to make our annual event a success.”
The Polar Bear party gets its name from a popular Polar Bear drink served at the event, a blended frozen concoction of ice cream, kahlua, and vodka.
Tom Sanor was a member of the party’s bartending team, a jovial group of characters eager to keep the party-goers well supplied.
“I’m the official ice cream cutter,” Sanor announced while loading a generous frozen slab into a waiting blender. “This is a secret recipe that a couple from Alaska brought here 12 years ago when the park started holding these parties.”
While the polar bear is the party’s only drink with alcohol, the bartending team also serves a non-alcohol version for those who prefer to stay away from booze.
“They’re both really good, but the one with alcohol is a lot more fun,” Sanor said. “And it’s more popular.”
Every year the park’s fundraiser is supported by Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant number 528 out of Sierra Vista, Gail Lenney said.
“Andre Thomas is the Buffalo Wild Wings manager, and he agreed to donate 800 wings, along with some side dishes. We’re so grateful for the support they give us every year. They started donating to this event back when Alan Gordon was manager, then Andre stepped in and continued to help us after Alan left the area.”
In addition to the restaurant’s food donation, park residents bring a favorite dish for a potluck dinner.
A 50-50 raffle adds to the food bank’s donation pool. Thursday’s raffle raised around $1,100, with winner Jimmy Thomas handing his share back to the food bank.
While Mike and Gail Lenney are the event’s primary organizers, Gail is quick to point out that the party’s overall success stems from a “deep sense of fellowship and camaraderie” throughout the park, where everyone treats each other like family and is willing to volunteer where needed.
That camaraderie and family-like atmosphere are what makes Saguaro SKP Chapter 21 in Benson — a club that falls under the Escapees RV Park umbrella — such a desirable place to live, said Maryann Roths. She and her husband, Frank, sat on a waiting list for more than three years before a casita space became available.
“We fell in love with this park the first time we visited it four years ago,” Maryann said. “On that first visit, we met more people here than we knew in our Dallas neighborhood after 10 years.”
Once they were notified of an available space, the Roths sold their historic home in Dallas and moved to SKP park, where Maryann says they plan to spend their retirement years.
With 300 spaces, SKP has a waiting list of more than 300, Maryann said. Many wait three or four years for one of the coveted openings to come up.
“Everyone loves it here,” she said. “The people are phenomenal, and there is always something going on. We enjoy the sense of family that we have here, and we love being involved in important community outreach projects like this one tonight, in support of the Benson Food Bank.”