Coldest Night raises funds and awareness
By Erin Knutson
Walkers came out in droves to support the hungry, homeless and hurting people in the community and across Canada at the Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) on Saturday, Feb. 22.
The walk-a-thon was hosted for the first time by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Kootenays Branch at the Days Inn & Conference Centre in Cranbrook. The national campaign raised over $35,000 locally, and $6 million nation-wide with the support of 136 communities. The Blue Sea Foundation facilitates CNOY annually out of Ontario.
“We have a passion for mental health. There are housing challenges and low vacancy rates (one per cent or lower) right now, and it’s difficult for people to manage with insecure housing,” said Manager of Public Education and Event Organizer at CMHA Arielle Dyment.
Twenty-Nine sponsors helped make the evening a possibility. Their generosity reflected the philanthropy and goodwill of the city, according to Dyment.
Teams consisting of families with young children, individuals, sponsors, volunteers, and CMHA staff enjoyed a host of activities, including an opening ceremony, complete with Zumba, and speeches to rally participants for the two, five or 10 km walk ahead.
Cameron Rose and her son Sutton Taylor of the family fundraising team ‘Not so fast just furious’ came out to support her partner, who is an employee with the CMHA and as someone who has experienced homelessness firsthand. Rose acknowledged the fear and hopelessness of not being able to go home when she was on the street.
“This will go a long way to support mental health and homelessness. There is a lack of money and social supports. A lot of homelessness is due to mental illness, and we need to de-stigmatize mental health now,” she said.
Armed with signs, and a signature CNOY toque, fundraiser’s marched into the streets to raise awareness for the vulnerable and those experiencing homelessness in the community.
“People are couch surfing, and parents with young children are having a hard time. Unstable housing affects mental-health and employability. Without an address, people can’t successfully apply for a job. Affordable housing is a great need, and it’s about creating awareness,” said Dyment.
Donations collected from CNOY will help fund essential programs to support struggling families and individuals while helping them to find stability and to regain a quality of life that many people take for granted.
“The event is about walking in someone else’s shoes. It’s about getting a glimpse of what it’s like to be cold and hungry. Affordable housing is in crisis, and everybody needs to get involved. The federal government has addressed the situation, but we need to step up and do more to secure stable housing,” said Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer at CMHA Carey Fraser.
The partnership between the Salvation Army and the CMHA provides tools and resources to aid individuals in the community and to help get them off the streets, including offering subsidized housing, according to Fraser.
“Cranbrook agencies talk amongst each other and work together, but times are tough, and the struggle is great. So far tonight has been a success, and we’ve created a loop of fundraising as a community,” she said.
The lead sponsor for the evening George Berry of Berry Architecture + Associates Ltd. spoke to over 20 years of philanthropy on behalf of his architecture firm stemming from his father, who believed that a community is only as strong as its businesses are philanthropic.
“We have a long history of supporting the CMHA and mental health. We are in a desperate situation with affordable housing, it’s beyond desperate, and we’ve seen the homeless struggles as a community,” said Berry.
For a list of community sponsors, please visit CNOY Sponsors
Lead image: Family team ‘Not fast just furious’ from left to right: Daryl Richardson, Marg Richardson, Cameron Rose, Michelle Richardson, and Sutton Taylor (front and centre) at the Coldest Night of the Year on Saturday, Feb. 22.. Photos by Erin Knutson