Coldest Night Of The Year Walk Comes To Huntsville And Gravenhurst On February 26

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Gravenhurst volunteers wear their yellow Coldest Night of the Year toques alongside the statue of Dr. Norman Bethune
Gravenhurst volunteers wear their yellow CNOY toques alongside the statue of Dr. Norman Bethune. Photo courtesy of Bryan White

Though the Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) may sound like a frigid weather forecast, it’s actually a nation-wide fundraising event and it’s coming to communities across Canada, including Huntsville and Gravenhurst, on Feb. 26.

CNOY is an annual fundraising walk that supports local charity partners across the country including food banks, shelters and other outreach organizations. The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation in Huntsville has been participating in the event for a decade now while Gravenhurst Against Poverty (GAP) is going on year four. For both organizations, CNOY is their biggest fundraiser of the year. Heather Cassie, founder and CEO of the Table, said it’s exciting to join 167 locations across Canada in raising money and bringing attention to such meaningful causes.

“It’s such an important thing to be part of because our community has lots of people who are hungry, hurting and homeless,” Cassie said. “It’s a simple way to just show support and kindness and love to people that you might not know personally but that are here around you.”

Last year’s event took a virtual approach due to the pandemic, so participants were able to complete their walk any time during February on routes of their own choosing. This year, Muskoka residents have the option to do that again or join other walkers for the events in Huntsville and Gravenhurst on Feb. 26. The start and end points will be the Table’s facilities at 9 Hanes Street in Huntsville and the Lion’s Pavilion at the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst.

Heather Cassie, founder and CEO of the Table, walks with volunteer Sarah Thatcher during last year’s event. Photo courtesy of Heather Cassie

CNOY has been the Table’s largest annual fundraiser ever since they started participating ten years ago. The money raised funds their eight different services, which include a food bank, a community kitchen and a men’s shelter, to name a few. They serve people from all walks of life, Cassie said, and it’s always without judgment.

“Whether it’s winter tires or a furnace breaking or not being able to work for a bit, whatever it might be, if we can help alleviate some of anyone’s financial burden, we are here with no questions asked,” she said. “You don’t have to prove your need, so even if you come once and it makes a bit of a difference, or if you come weekly to our food bank, twice a week to the soup kitchen, anybody’s welcome.”

The organization was also able to purchase their two buildings in Huntsville last year, so any additional funds will be used to fix up parts of the buildings that are in desperate need of repair, Cassie said. While their services always take priority, their team hopes to improve the buildings as a way to honour the people who use their services and make them feel more welcome.

Since they’ve been able to raise more and more every year, the team at the Table decided on a goal of $60,000 for this year’s event. Their supporters have raised 60 per cent of that goal already and there’s still plenty of time to sign up.

It’s not a huge time commitment, Cassie said, and every little bit goes a long way. The staff and volunteers at the Table want to thank their event director Paula Paunic for all her work on the event as well as their sponsors for supporting their efforts.

Coldest Night of the Year participants
Photo courtesy of Bryan White

The folks behind Gravenhurst’s CNOY event are also feeling grateful after reaching their fundraising goal twice, weeks ahead of the actual event. They started by surpassing their goal of $75,000 and raising the target to $100,000. Now, they’ve exceeded that goal as well with more than $108,000 raised, allowing them to top the event’s scoreboard.

Volunteer Holly Caroll and Bryan White, Gravenhurst CNOY committee co-chair, wear their 2022 CNOY toques at the Muskoka Wharf. Photo courtesy of Bryan White

“I knew with how many people were connected to the organization that we were going to have a big year, but if you’d said to me in October, November when we were having our first conversations about the event for this year, I could not possibly have predicted that it would be where we are,” said Bryan White, Gravenhurst CNOY committee co-chair. “To be leading this beautiful country of Canada of ours as far as the number of walkers registered and the total funds raised to date, it’s unbelievable.”

GAP formed in early 2018 with the goal of addressing poverty in the region. They started by targeting food insecurity with a supplemental food program. The organization serves more than 600 people through the program each week and they’ve expanded their offerings to include transportation, mental wellness and youth programs as well.

Despite their early fundraising success, they’re not slowing down their efforts to bring in as much money as possible. CNOY has played a big role in allowing GAP to grow and this year’s event is no different.

“We’re still just as motivated and driven to continue to raise as much funds [and] resources as possible because there’s so many great things on the horizon for GAP,” White said.
“Beyond the three pillars of service, the food, the transportation and mental wellness, there’s the possibility hopefully in the near future of GAP being able to acquire a physical space downtown.”

Coldest Night of the Year participants
Photo courtesy of Bryan White

The space would become a community hub with affordable housing units, an emergency youth shelter, a community kitchen and a dedicated youth centre, White said. With that goal in mind, he can’t wait to see where the fundraising total ends up on Feb. 26.

It’ll be special to once again gather with volunteers and walkers in a safe way for this year’s event, he said, and it’s an important reminder of the homelessness and poverty that exists in Muskoka, despite the affluent reputation of the region.

“This event, the vision, the mission behind it is to support those who are faced with what we call the three Hs, those who are hurt, those who are hungry and those who are homeless,” White said. “We can’t live in a community where there are people who are hungry and don’t have a meal every day three times a day, so it’s really important for us to step up and support that.”

To make a donation or get involved in the Coldest Night of the Year, visit the event pages for Huntsville and Gravenhurst. Visit the Table Soup Kitchen Foundation’s website and GAP’s website to learn more about their services.

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