What do Portlanders do during the deepest freeze in years? Drink martinis outdoors, of course.

“You can’t even tell that it’s cold outside,” said Carol Zechman of South Portland, who grabbed a seat by one of the larger firepits Thursday night.

It was 13 degrees and dropping, with Foreigner’s ’70s hit “Cold as Ice” an appropriate musical backdrop.

The annual three-night ice sculpture 21+ party at the Portland Harbor Hotel is a sellout event — 800 people per night with tickets starting at $20.

“It doesn’t matter how cold it is,” said Gerard Kiladjian, general manager of the hotel. “People brave the cold and get bragging rights.”

Where else can you can order specialty martinis and watch Smirnoff vodka journey down an ice luge into your glass?

Warmer temps are found indoors, along with a DJ and samples from area restaurants such as Buck’s Naked BBQ, Spread, Zapoteca, GoBerry and the hotel’s own Eve’s at the Garden.

Proceeds from this year’s Ice Bar will be split equally between three nonprofits: Community Counseling Services, the Root Cellar, and Share Our Strength of Southern Maine.

“I’ve been coming to the event for a couple of years, and last year I said, ‘I want this event,”‘ said Leslie Skillin, manager of Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) of Community Counseling Center. “So we did something fun. We submitted our top 10 reasons to toast to TIP.”

TIP trains citizen volunteers to provide “emotional first aid” to victims of traumatic events and their families in the first few hours following a tragedy. Calls might involve an involve a family that has lost its home to a fire, an elderly woman suddenly faced with the death of her husband, or a father anxiously awaiting news about an injured child. Volunteers pledge to respond within 20 minutes, though the average arrival time is just 17 minutes.

“Our volunteers go into situations that most of us will hopefully never have to face in our lives,” said Erin Smith, director of development and communications. “They get up in the middle of the night and they go to the hospital and take care of other people. They’re amazing.”

The other first-time recipient organization is the Root Cellar, a faith-based inner-city ministry that has served the Munjoy Hill neighborhood for 28 years. The Root Cellar provides food, clothing, dental and medical care, after-school programs, ESL programs and citizenship classes.

“Our purpose is to engage the communities and families to move ahead — financially, from a health standpoint, and from a spiritual standpoint,” said Kurt Holmgren, director of the Root Cellar. “There’s a lot of people in need out there. But a lot of folks are not looking for a handout; they’re looking to retain their vitality and their dignity.”

In fact, the Root Cellar helps jobless adults, including new immigrants, look for work. And Holmgren said he talked with Kiladjian about a possible link when the Portland Harbor Hotel is hiring in its housekeeping department.

A repeat beneficiary of the Ice Bar is Share Our Strength of Southern Maine, which battles childhood hunger. According to the USDA, one in four children in Maine live with food insecurity — meaning that they aren’t sure where their next healthy meal will come from. That makes Maine the hungriest New England state.

“For every dollar we raise and grant to our beneficiaries, we provide 10 meals to children,” said chairman John Woods. “We grant through organizations that are very efficient.”

Share Our Strength partners with the Good Shepherd Food Bank, which is in all counties in Maine, as well as Cultivating Community and Opportunity Alliance.

Share Our Strength also supports the Preble Street Teen Center, which houses 30 teenagers who would otherwise be homeless. In addition to going to school, teens are taught to shop and cook meals.

Over three nights, last year’s Ice Bar raised $15,000 for nonprofits — a pretty cool way to make a difference in the community.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

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