By HEATHER STANLEY
We often take for granted the things we’ve always had until they are gone. A home and food are readily available to many, so we often forget those who don’t have those luxuries. To help people who are displaced, hungry, and hurting, hundreds took part in the Coldest Night of the Year’s annual walk in Kitchener on Feb. 21.
“It started five years ago in two cities: Kitchener and Toronto,” said event organizer Mika Takamaki. “We had about 400 walkers the first year. It’s grown year by year. We are now in 80 locations across Canada from Newfoundland up to Yellowknife.”
An estimated 500 people participated in this year’s event that took place at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute. To warm up for the walk, attendees shook to the well-known beat of the Harlem Shake. They then walked either a five- or 10-kilometre route from the school to the Ray of Hope Community Centre, the charity which was receiving the proceeds.
The Ray of Hope Foundation is an organization dedicated to providing care and hope for those struggling with crime, addiction and homelessness. It was started in 1967 by a group of men and a Baptist pastor named Arman Wright. They run a variety of services which include justice, employment and addiction service for youth as well as community support services. Ray of Hope also operates freedom ministry for those who feel they’re hindered from being like Christ.
According to the Coldest Night of the Year’s website, approximately 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year. Homelessness is defined as not having a consistent, safe or affordable place to live. Although the most obvious form of homelessness are those who live out on the streets or in shelters, there is also the hidden type. People in this category may be staying with friends, family or in an institutional setting or be at risk of living in precarious, unknown or unpredictable situations. Over 35,000 are homeless on any night.
Volunteer June Wideman said, “Some use the Ray of Hope’s community centre as a temporary help and some through circumstances have to use it on a regular basis. They provide a hot meal seven days a week, 365 days a year. They serve over 200 people, usually up to 250 plus, so no one in K-W has to go hungry.”
Wideman believes a lot of homelessness is caused by the high cost of living. Other reasons can vary from mental health issues, addictions and nervousness. This year the fundraising goal for the K-W walk was $150,000.
“We have been walking for, I guess, this is our third year now,” Christa Wideman said, who walked five kilometres with her two daughters and a friend. “I have raised $225 myself. It’s just a great time to have fun and to raise money for a great cause.”
Wideman was part of the Emmanuel team from Elmira which raised $2,255 in total. As of Feb. 23, the K-W event had raised $131,142. Across Canada $2.8 million was raised, just short of the $3-million goal. Donations will be accepted until April 10.