Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser less than one month away

BRIDGEWATER - The Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) fundraising for Souls Harbour Rescue Mission is just around the corner.

"This if the only event we do," said John Christenson, manager of the Pleasant Street home, referring to actually fundraising events.

The event is a national walk-a-thon to raise money and the funds raised in each community, stay in the community to help support the services offered. Across Canada there are 191 walk locations this year. Since the event's first year, 2011, the event has raised over $96 million dollars for the organization and its operations nation-wide.

The website for the organization describes Souls Harbour as a "home for the homeless...It's hope for the hopeless. It's food for the stomach and food for the soul. It's friendship for the lonely.

"Souls Harbour rescues people from poverty, addiction and despair, by offering emergency help, such as food and clothing, life-changing programs and a message of hope. If you haven't a friend in the world, you can find one here, where we strive to offer welcome, hope and dignity to each of our guests."

Last year the Bridgewater event raised over $26,000 (goal was $20,000) and had more than 100 walkers take part.

To sign up for this year's event, or for more information, go to cnoy.org.

This year, he hopes to up the ante and raise $30,000, money that will go towards some much needed renovations at their current location and their new home that they purchased last year. This home will provide much-needed low income housing "in a boarding house-style of situation" and a larger space for their Free Mart clothing store.

Renovations to the newest addition is expected to being in the first half of this year, but Christensen there is not a timeline that he could point to for the project.

The current facility has also been busy and renovations are needed to make things run smoother.

The new partnership with the South Shore Open Doors Association and the United Way combining efforts for the emergency shelter, have seen them expand their hours to serve more food, drinks and snacks, and be a place to go during the day for those using the overnight shelter.

He said because of this, they have been serving up to 15-20 extra people each day, and they can see as many as 120 people each day at the facility. Dinner is prepared every day and snacks and drinks are provided throughout the day for anyone in need.

The grounds have also been kept busy with the recent addition of the Bridgewater Lions Food Pantry that is located just outside the home. This was opened in November 2022 and Christensen said there has been a lot of support from the community to keep it stocked.

"The community pantry caters more to people that are less open to show they have need," he said. "Many people come after hours because of the stigma of having to come in for help. This way we are able to reach out to more families that we would not be able to help normally."

He said help for people is needed more than ever and gave a recent example.

"When Superstore announced they were cutting back their 50 per cent items to 30 per cent, the amount of outrage that it provoked..." he said. "I think we see the need increasing because of the cost. I don't see that ever changing, not any time soon. It shows you the disconnect there that they would even announce something so silly, especially now."

Taking part in the Coldest Night of the Year is a fun way to show your support for this much-needed organization.

"It's going to be a great time. A lot of people had a lot of fun and we had a blast," he said. "This is a great community event where everyone can come together and see what we're doing and how we're growing."

This year's event will launch at the Bridgewater Junior High School. This is different from normal years. beginning with check-in at 4 p.m. followed by the send-off at 5 p.m. Walk/run courses are two-or-five kilometres in length depending on your ambitions that day.

Along with following the routes, there will be opportunity to stop in at Souls Harbour for a quick tour and a warm-up drink and snack (thanks to Fancy Pants Café) before finishing off the course.

To close the event off, there will be a light meal served at the junior high school and time for socializing and asking questions.

There will be route marshals, rest stop hosts and a support vehicle (Bridgewater Lions) along the routes in case anything is needed.

Christensen said there has been some great support from the community since it began and this year, more sponsors have come on board including O'Regans and the Bridgewater McDonalds, for which he is forever grateful.

With less than one month to go (as of Jan. 24), locally $10,001 has been raised towards the goal of $30,000, with 83 walkers and 22 teams taking part. Don't forget any adult who raises $150, or youth ($75 under 17) gets a free 2024 CNOY toque.

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