Well, it wasn’t exactly the Coldest Night of the Year, but peoples’ hearts would have melted the most bitter winter chill Saturday night.
I’m guessing it was about 5 C as I joined an enthusiastic, yellow-toque-wearing throng of about 300 supporters on a charity walk for Vernon’s Upper Room Mission.
If you were driving along either 27th or 32nd Street that night, you couldn’t help but notice us lining the sidewalks (apologies if you had to wait at a crosswalk for an agonizing amount of time while herds of walkers passed you by).
Statistically speaking, February is the coldest month, hence the name Coldest Night. But even in Toronto (and Kitchener/Waterloo), where the charity started in 2011, it was a balmy -1 C on Saturday.
Obviously, the main goal of any fundraiser is to do just that – raise money for individuals or organizations in need. In the Upper Room Mission’s case, it is the building itself on 27th Avenue that needs support in the form of a new sprinkler system.
The cost of the system is estimated to be as high as $100,000, and the work is supposed to be done by May as part of a requirement by the city.
Event organizers had set an original goal of raising $25,000 towards the sprinkler upgrade, but the good people of Vernon have come through in style, amassing $31,000 for the charity. Not bad for an inaugural event.
Fundraising aside, the timing for Coldest Night is clever for two reasons. First, it helps extend donations and volunteer efforts for homeless charities beyond the typical holiday season.
Second, if you’re outdoors for any amount of time in February (our current string of mild winter weather is more of an anomaly), chances are it’s going to be pretty chilly. Spending a little time after dark, out in the cold, helps create awareness of what life for the homeless is like. If only for a few brief hours.
However, I can’t pretend that walking five kilometres on a winter night makes me an authority on what it is like to be homeless. That would be like playing a war game on my Playstation and then saying I understand the trauma soldiers endure in the heat of battle.
The difference is, once the walk is over, we all get to go back to our cozy homes and relax.
I think if people were to spend just one night outside, it would be more than enough to make them realize being homeless is no picnic.
That isn’t a challenge. To be honest, even the idea of contemplating something like that is a little terrifying to me.
For starters, where would you sleep? In a park? At a building site? Even if I had my tent and fancy down-filled sleeping bag from Mountain Equipment Co-op, I wouldn’t last the night because I would feel so vulnerable out there on my own. I would be counting the minutes until sunrise so I could get the heck out of there and back to my so-called normal life.
So instead, I gladly accepted my bowl of chili (graciously provided by the Lions Club) and a few goodies at the end of the Coldest Night walk and called it (Upper Room) Mission accomplished.
I’m embarrassed to say this, but until Saturday, I had never set foot inside the Mission. You always hear about it and what it does for the community, so I’m glad I finally got to check it out firsthand.
People end up on the streets for a wide range of social and economic reasons – poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues and lack of social support are some of the main ones. Without organizations like the Upper Room Mission, they would have no place to go, and no one to help get them back on their feet.
Donations for Coldest Night of the Year can be made until March 15 at coldestnightoftheyear.org or by calling 250-549-1231.