Photo Credit: Coldest Night of the Year

 

A total of 415 walkers participated in this year’s first virtual Coldest Night of the Year event and raised over $150,000 for charity.

 

Now in its 10th year, Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) is an annual family-friendly national walk-a-thon that helps raise funds for charities that serve hungry, homeless and hurting people in almost 150 communities across Canada. This year, in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions, the walk was held virtually and was free of charge to take part in.

 

In St. Catharines, the event is hosted by Start Me Up Niagara, a local charity that supports people facing poverty, homelessness, unemployment, disabilities, addictions and mental illness. Start Me Up Niagara is one of the four local charities that benefit from the funds raised by the event annually. The three other charities that receive funding from the event are Project SHARE, YWCA West Niagara and Open Arms Mission.

 

Matt Cuthbert, Executive Director of Niagara Furniture Bank, decided to do something new for this year’s event. In an effort to bring more awareness to the issues that the walk seeks to address locally, Cuthbert sat outside the Project SHARE building for 12 hours.

 

“It gets worse every day; it gets worse every year. More people are becoming homeless and more people are not able to afford housing, or if they have it, they’re in cramped housing,” said Cuthbert. “That’s exactly the reason I [did] it: for my own personal understanding. Reason number two is bringing light to the conversation.”

 

In addition to sitting outside, Cuthbert created his own donation page for the CNOY event and set a fundraising goal of $250. By the end of his time outside the Project SHARE building, he raised a total of $3,695.

 

The overall fundraising goal for St. Catharines’ CNOY was $150,000 and as of the writing of this article, the event raised a total of $160,965.

 

Though the event has passed, interested individuals are still able to donate to the cause through the CNOY website. Outside of financial donations, residents are encouraged to engage with their local charities of choice and provide support safely in any way they can.

 

“If you can’t donate because you’re financially strapped, step outside and experience it,” said Cuthbert. “Put your phone down and put your comforts aside and stand or sit outside for 30 minutes.”

 

Beyond hosting CNOY, Start Me Up Niagara continues to operate a number of services during the COVID-19 pandemic that residents can support. Notably, the charity’s Out of the Cold shelter program remains operational and will run until April 15. The program provides a hot meal and an overnight shelter with 45 beds seven days a week in St. Catharines. In order to remain open, strict health and safety protocols are in place including screening, handwashing, take-out suppers, mandatory masks and physical distancing. 

 

Those who desire to find out more about CNOY are able to do so by visiting www.cnoy.org. Residents who are interested in engaging with Start Me Up Niagara and learning more about their other initiatives can visit www.startmeupniagara.ca.