The winter months are the harshest of the year to be homeless.
That’s why instead of taking place in July or August, the Coldest Night of the Year Walk, which hit Thunder Bay streets early Saturday evening, puts participants in the shoes of the people they are helping.
“People get an idea of what it’s like to be out in the cold, maybe something they don’t experience day to day,” said event coordinator Gary Macsemchuk.
“They get to experience what it’s like to walk and wander the streets having no place to go. We’re serving a chili meal that is similar to the meals we would serve at Grace Place or the Shelter House.”
Thunder Bay was one of 63 municipalities across the country hosting a Coldest Night of the Year Walk to support the homeless, hungry and hurting and and had nearly 300 people take to the sidewalks at the starting point at the Thunder Bay Christian Fellowship.
Walkers could either complete a two, five or 10 kilometre distance with the longer treks covering a significant portion of the city’s East End and south downtown in temperatures with a wind chill that felt like - 20C.
Walkers then returned to the Christian Fellowship on the corner of Syndicate Avenue and Finlayson Street for a dinner and wrap up.
With the walk only being in its second year, Macsemchuk was inspired to see word of the event spread so quickly and have such a large turn out.
“The response is overwhelming,” he said. “People have been calling, coming and wanting to join teams to help us with what we’re doing at Grace Place.”
Coun. Aldo Ruberto participated in the inaugural event last year and returned for the second edition, helping cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially commence walk.
He said it’s important to not only donate money but to participate and encourage others to do their part to make a difference, and so far he can see the impact of the event growing.
“I was here for the first year and said to myself, this event is going to grow. People are compassionate in this city and it shows,” Ruberto said.
“This year they’ve doubled their members and next year I expect it will keep growing because people are aware of the difficulties of others who are struggling.”
There were 39 teams that were put together, ranging from restaurants and other corporate groups to religious organizations. Some teams had as many as 15 people.
The top 10 fundraising teams combined to contribute more than $25,000, nearly half of the event’s $60,000 target.
“All of the funds raised are going to towards our kitchen construction project,” he said. “At Grace Place we serve meals three days a week and this year we’re going to serve about 35,000 meals and give out 15,000 food hampers.”
More information about The Coldest Night of the Year can be found online.