For this year’s ‘Duck Derby,’ rubber hits the virtual road

Vero Beach lifeguard Shaun Dibble dives into the pool at Leisure Square wearing a shark costume on Sunday, October 11. [Photo: Brenda Ahearn]

Ordinarily, toward the end of October each year, the Capt. Hiram’s Sand Bar goes a little ‘quackers’ as 5,000 bright yellow rubber duckies bob their way toward the shoreline during the Great Duck Derby to benefit Treasure Coast Community Health.

The premise of the Duck Derby is to encourage people to ‘adopt’ rubber duckies ($5 apiece). On Derby Day, 5,000 ducks dropped into the Indian River Lagoon and are funneled toward the shore, with cash prizes awarded to the owners of the first three to reach the shoreline.

In the past, the fine-feathered supporters and volunteers of TCCH would wander the crowd, soliciting duck adoptions for the race, and selling a variety of duckies for people to take home that had been cleverly decorated by corporate sponsors.

But as everyone knows, this year has been anything but ordinary. With no end to the coronavirus in site, organizers opted to keep everyone safe by taking the event into the virtual realm.

Creativity is the name of the game with fundraisers in this new COVID-culture, and TCCH is diving right in with a Virtual Duck Derbystreamed on Oct. 25.

Members of the Vero Beach Lifeguard Association are involved this year and, as they do daily on our local beaches and pools, will be watching over the little duckies to make sure no harm comes to them from any ominous predators – especially sharks!

“They’re going to be doing all kinds of stuff; it’s gonna be fun,” said Dennis Bartholomew, TCCH director of business development, adding that adoptees will still be eligible for one of three cash prizes.

“Every year we have two big fundraisers; one is a golf tournament and the other is the Duck Derby,” said Bartholomew. “But the golf tournament went by the wayside because of COVID, and the Duck Derby was off and on, off and on, off and on.”

At the time that they were making final decisions, the Sand Bar was still under Phase 2, which mandated a 50-person maximum.

“There would have been no roaming around, no band on the stage, no anything. We bring 50 people of our own and we walk around, because that’s how we get people excited about adopting ducks for the race,” said Bartholomew.

Sponsors would help by decorating additional ducks and increasing the amount raised, but the pandemic has affected adoptions and sponsorships alike.

“We’ve lost a lot of sponsorships, and we haven’t been able to get out into the community to do any duck adoptions,” said Bartholomew. He noted that there were no festivals over the spring or summer where they would ordinarily have encouraged participation, and many of the marketing budgets of business sponsors were frozen thanks to the pandemic.

“So, it’s really rough here; we’re struggling with it and trying to get it done,” said Bartholomew. “On top of that, with the pandemic, our psychiatrists at TCCH have been slammed with people coming into us with depression, anger, anxiety, suicidal tendencies.”

As a result, they decided all funds from this year’s Duck Derby will be dedicated to help people who cannot afford to pay for mental health services.

Overall, Bartholomew said, “we served 25,000 people last year and about 87 percent of them were below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, so they’re paying minimum to nothing for our services. And right now, the people who are coming to us who can’t afford to pay has increased by 40 percent over last year.”

TCCH operates out of eight locations, providing accessible, cost-effective, high-quality, comprehensive care, including medical, dental and behavioral healthcare, to individuals regardless of their socio-economic circumstances on a sliding scale based on income.

He noted that in 2019, TCCH provided 15,741 mental health visits to 2,583 patients, adding that a 40 percent increase there alone would mean another 1,000 patients.

“Adopting can really help somebody get mental health services that they need and can’t afford to pay for,” said Bartholomew. “You can adopt online; it’s really easy. It takes you right to a page where you can adopt one or as many ducks as you want.”

People can watch the Virtual Duck Derby at 3 p.m. Sunday Oct. 25 on Facebook Live. For more information, visit


Photos by: Kaila Jones
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