The Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) came to Huntsville and Gravenhurst on Feb. 26, allowing two Muskoka charities to surpass their goals for their biggest fundraisers of the year.
CNOY is an annual walk that raises money for various charity partners across Canada on the last Saturday in February. Gravenhurst Against Poverty (GAP) started with a goal of $75,000, but the event team raised it to $100,000 after meeting their target weeks early. The event ultimately brought in more than double the original goal with over $175,000 raised. The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation in Huntsville also surpassed its goal, which was set at $60,000. Participants raised nearly $88,000 at the time of publication and that number could still rise as donations are being accepted for all CNOY locations through March 31.
“We’re all kind of in awe of how amazing and how generous our community is and the size of people’s hearts in acknowledging the need in our community and supporting our most vulnerable neighbours,” said Bryan White, Gravenhurst CNOY committee co-chair. “It’s just amazing to see where we finished.”
Gravenhurst led CNOY’s scoreboard for weeks with the most walkers registered and the most funds raised. Though they slipped out of first over time, they finished at ninth place, joining larger communities like Kitchener, Collingwood and Orillia in the top 10. Spirits were high and the snowy weather was beautiful on the day of the walk, White said, so participants were excited to gather together once again after last year’s virtual approach.
GAP’s previous fundraising record was last year’s total of $89,000. Between setting a new record and having 38 sponsors, 48 volunteers, over 400 walkers and more than 1,700 donors, the planning committee and the team at GAP have a lot to be grateful for. They hope to create a new facility for GAP in the near future, but in the meantime, the funds will play a major role in supporting their programs.
“[Between] the food program, the transportation program and the wellness support, this money will hopefully go a long way in addressing the need that continues to rise,” White said. “There was, I believe, a 400 per cent increase in need for GAP programs from 2020 to 2021, so as the need grows, hopefully GAP can continue to meet that and support those in need.”
Heather Cassie, founder and CEO of the Table Soup Kitchen Foundation, said it was wonderful seeing “the yellow sea of toques” at the event. It was new to them to hold their opening ceremonies outside, but the weather cooperated and Cassie loved every minute of reconnecting with her friends and volunteers.
“We had such a good time,” Cassie said. “It was like a big hug from the community, just having everybody there and participating. Everyone was happy to be there and the weather was lovely.”
The results of the event far exceeded the expectations of the team at the Table. They chose a goal of $60,000 because they thought it was attainable, so it blew their minds to see the total of nearly $90,000. The Table has been participating in CNOY for a decade, and each year it gets easier to grow the event and bring in donations, Cassie said.
A lot of people came together to make the event a success, so she wants to thank the walkers, donors, sponsors and volunteers that made the walk happen. She also wants to recognize their top fundraisers, Jason Fitzgerald, Katy McGregor and Kirsten Dale, as well as event director Paula Paunic and fellow event team members Sarah Cooper, Sylvie Berg and Amy Snow.
There’s been lots of hugs and dance parties celebrating their success, Cassie said, and they’re grateful to be able to hold the CNOY fundraiser year after year.
“There’s been a lot of prayer that’s gone into this and we just feel like God has just blessed us,” she said. “We’re just grateful that God had his hand in it and he cares for the hungry, hurting and homeless. Needs will be met and we’ve never doubted that.”
Along with the fundraising total, this year’s event was also special to Cassie for a more personal reason. Her husband Evan Martell died on Oct. 29 last year, so in addition to walking for the hungry, hurting and homeless, Cassie and her team walked for him.
“Evan really loved our Coldest Night of the Year walk every year and he volunteered with us and was a men’s shelter staff member,” she said. “I felt that it was really fitting to honour him that way and just dedicate the walk in his lovely memory.”
Members of his family also volunteered and walked in the event. CNOY was a bright and joyful time for Cassie in the months of grief following her husband’s death, so along with being the Table’s top annual fundraiser, the walk will also be a way for Cassie to honour her husband for years to come.
“We just took the time to remember him and his commitment to the Table and passion for our community, so my team was named Evan’s Table Setters,” she said. “Every year, my team has been called the Table Setters and from now on, it’ll be Evan’s Table Setters. I’ll be walking in his memory year after year.”