Coldest Night of the Year an evening full of unity and compassion - Grant Haven
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Coldest Night of the Year an evening full of unity and compassion

Coldest Night of the Year an evening full of unity and compassion

Emily Stewart

It was a chilly evening as Coldest Night of the Year walkers strolled in the sunset near Upper Queens Park. 

The Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser filled the park Feb. 24 with walkers circuiting the Avon River raising money for Shelterlink Youth Services and the Connection Centre run by United Way Perth-Huron. The annual event occurs in late February across Canada to raise money for local services helping people experiencing hunger, hurt and homelessness. 

“It’s so exciting and gratifying to see people that take the time, right?” said Ryan Erb, executive director of United Way Perth-Huron. “You can walk past somebody who’s experiencing homelessness or not even notice the person who might be struggling in your community, but when you actually take a few hours and say, ‘I’m going to do this,’ I think it means a lot to the community to see that sharing of compassion.”

Cate Trudeau, executive director of Shelterlink, said it was inspiring to see how many people were at the event to support people helping youth experiencing homelessness and couldn’t say thank you enough.

“Everyone was really excited,” Trudeau said. “There’s so many groups, there’s just unity, there’s community, there’s compassion. It’s been really heartwarming.”

Sonya Heyen, event organizer and resource development manager for United Way Perth-Huron, said Stratford placed fourth in all of Canada for fundraising. The Stratford webpage on the Coldest Night of the Year website said Stratford’s event involved 460 walkers, 71 teams and 12 volunteers raising $203,173 – far exceeding local $170,000 goal. 

“I’m so proud to be in Stratford and have them collectively join this movement to stand up for kindness and equity for those who might be struggling,” Heyen said.

As anyone can experience homelessness for a variety of reasons, Erb said the Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser shows solidarity. 

“It happens to people that you don’t expect – good families, good situations. Sometimes, there’s things that we can’t count on, we can’t explain,” he said. “Other times, there’s significant trauma in people’s lives and whatever it is, we need to walk in solidarity with people that are in those situations and try to walk alongside and do what we can to help lift together with them as they have the dignity of choice and the dignity to operate their lives.”

After the walk, attendees warmed up with hot chocolate, McDonald’s coffee and cookies, and a large bowl of soup from Soup Surreal as they chatted with their colleagues around the firepits in the park. 

“I think it’s an awesome event,” said Erin Leis of the group, Walking on a Prayer, and first-time Coldest Night of the Year participant “I think it’s something that should be promoted far more than it is. I just found out about it from a member of the church community and I’m like ‘I will absolutely participate.’ “

Linda Dench participated in the event with her company, Tri-County Brick, and enjoyed it.

 “It’s beautiful weather,” she said. “It’s a little chilly, but it keeps you going and coffee is excellent.”  

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