One of the joys of engaging in my Fabulous Feats is the ability to meet wonderful people whose paths I might not have otherwise crossed. This was the case when I signed up to volunteer for The Coldest Night of the Year walk in St. Catharines.
The walk began in 2011 as a way of raising money for the hungry, homeless, and hurting across Canada. By signing up to walk 2, 5, or 10 kms, participants experience just a little of what being outside on a cold winter night is like. With an estimated 150,000 Canadians experiencing homelessness outside, and countless more facing the uncertainly of living right on the edge, the walk raises both awareness and much-needed funds in over 100 communities for people struggling with poverty, mental health and addiction issues, discrimination, homelessness, and unemployment.
In Niagara, there are a number of walks including Niagara Falls (Project Share), Welland (The Open Arms Mission of Welland), Lincoln (Community Care of West Niagara) and St. Catharines (Start Me Up Niagara). Although I live in Niagara Falls, I chose to volunteer with Start Me Up Niagara (SMUN) because I am familiar with the great work they do to support individuals living with mental illness and addictions. I went on the national website and signed up as a volunteer.
I received an email inviting me to a volunteer get together for training at SMUN. When I arrived, I met a number of individuals including staff members, Board Directors, and community members who were all there to help make St. Catharines’ event successful. I had met Susan Venditti before, but that night I also met her partner, Tony “the Tiger” Venditti, who, in addition to being the Centre Coordinator, headed a team that had raised the 3rd largest amount compared to walkers from across Canada. I received my instructions for my role as Greeter and had a chance to get to know a few of the other volunteers over pizza.
The night of the event I arrived at the appointed time and met a lovely volunteer named Bonita whom I would be working along side. Our job was to make sure volunteers and walkers filled out the waiver form as the first step in the process. We both donned our blue event toques and began. In between giving instructions and checking paperwork, Bonita and I were able to chat. She said she was volunteering because SMUN had been so supportive for her, even helping her set up her own business. She proudly gave me a card that advertised her handmade jewelry.
It was wonderful to see the teams assemble and the little families gathered together to participate and model the importance of being a caring community member. With a few speeches, and lots of cheering, the walk began. Mother Nature was on our side, as the sun streamed into Market Square with the temperature topping out at 8 degrees. Bonita and I moved from Greeters to Welcome Back-ers. As people arrived in from their various walks, we clapped, yelled, and generally made noise that recognized the returnees.
There was food, and entertainment for everyone – general merriment and celebration ensued. I made my way home after the last few folks returned, a little hoarse from yelling, but with the happy glow of having been part of something lovely.
Almost $3.8 million dollars for 92 charities across the country was raised this year. Since 2011, the Coldest Night of the Year has raised $7.9 million dollars. The team led by Tony “the Tiger” brought in more than $19,000 for SMUN, whose overall total was just under their goal at $79,000. For those who might wish to push them over the top, donations can still be made till March 15th at startmeupniagara.ca/
Next up: Joining kindred spirits at a Writers’ Space