In North Bay, the Coldest Night of the Year was the culmination of four months of planning.
The goal was to raise money in order to better serve people in the community struggling to put food on the table, and a roof over their head.
On Saturday night, 155 walkers joined forces to walk routes of varying lengths throughout the city, the same streets many in the community walk when they are in search of shelter, a friendly face or a warm meal.
The amount collected by walkers and through online pledges exceeded the $50,000 fundraising target.
“The Coldest Night is a combination of two things really, it is a fundraiser, but it is also giving people an idea of what it would be like to walk in these temperatures all the time,” said Dennis Chippa, executive director of the Gathering Place.
“The money stays here for operational costs for the Gathering Place, the Warming Centre, our garden, it helps support our food rescue program, all of those other things that we do.”
The Gathering Place provides meals to individuals and families. The demand fluctuates throughout the month.
“We’re averaging about 35-40 breakfasts, we’re into the high 90’s now for lunch, and we’re serving around 75 to 80 people for our evening meals. We’re actually seeing a change in the demographics for the evening meals,” said Chippa.
“Now that we’re a larger facility, it is a little bit more welcoming. So, we’re seeing a few more families come in than we saw before. We think it is probably a combination of families that are struggling, and also the fact that it is a bigger facility, so you’re not as cramped. You’re able to pick a table for yourself and your kids, so we’re seeing a few more coming in.”
The numbers were down a little in January because the cold and snow made it difficult for people to get out, but those numbers are gradually starting to climb.
“Now that the weather is starting to turn a little bit, we’re starting to get a lot more people come in, especially at the end of the month. We were pretty busy this week and I’m sure next week will be really busy.”
The larger facility located on Cassells Street, has room for guests of the Gathering Place to stay longer.
“We don’t really close in between serving times anymore. We’re open all the time,” said Chippa.
“We’ve got some musical instruments now. A gentleman tuned up a piano for us that we had donated. So, we’ve got a guitar, piano, and keyboard, so folks can just play music, play cards, or do some artwork. So, it is allowing them to just stay longer.”
Among the walkers was the Oas family, with five children ranging in age from 5 to 16.
“I think it is just a really good cause. It is something that we get to do as a family as well, so I think that is really great,” said Michael Oas.
“I think ultimately at the end of the day, it will be something they’ll be mindful of in the community, and learn how to be good neighbours.”
Walkers took to the streets wearing their Coldest Night of the Year toques. Tealia Carriere stood out among the pack, wearing her first balloon dress creation, which took four hours to make, with the help of a friend.
“I thought it was a great organization to be a part of, and it is about giving back to the local community. I had no idea this was this big of an event until I saw so many other people had signed up to participate. I thought I might as well get involved and get the word out about it. I thought what a great way to have some fun, by displaying some balloons and raising money and awareness,” said Carriere.
Gathering Place board member Jenn Saile, walked with her team Inklined Studios.
“Most of us are business owners, so as women, we all came together and brought some of our husbands with us to help raise some funds and awareness in the city. This is our first time doing the walk, and we’ve raised almost $450. It is really nice to help other people understand what is going on with the hurting, the hungry and the homeless.”