Two days before the Coldest Night of the Year, 80 participants were registered—a number far short of expectations for the second annual homelessness fundraiser.
By Saturday evening, though, Port Alberni came through, as additional supporters—an estimated 125 in all, including young children—filed into the Athletic Hall for the two, five or 10 km walk.
Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society was thrilled by the showing, said executive director Ellen Frood. Speaking before the walk, she called it “amazing and wonderful” in what was only the second year in Port Alberni for the nationwide event.
Sponsors stepped forward this year to give the fundraiser added momentum. The ADSS jazz concert band buoyed the mood of the crowd beforehand. Bowls of hot chili were served when they got back to the hall, courtesy of the “Red Hot Chili Preppers.”
Frood noted that the provincial budget tabled Tuesday brought some good news in the form of additional funding to fight hunger and homelessness.
“There’s a need in our community that never stops,” said businesswoman and city councillor Sharie Minions, who chairs ACAWS, noting that the fundraiser covers shortfalls in programs provided by the non-profit society. That includes the Port Alberni Transition House, which logged 1,700 stays in the past year for 120 women and 300 children.
“There’s no doubt our community has some socio-economic challenges,” Minions added. “I think we’re well on our way to making a difference.”
Local politicians joined in the effort.
“We shouldn’t have to be here, walking for homeless people; it’s a human right,” said Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns. “The prime minister made a commitment — find homes for half the homeless people in 10 years, but that’s only half the people.”
In the House of Commons last week, he spoke on the need for a special committee dedicated to addressing homelessness across Canada. Homelessness is hard on individuals but also takes a higher toll on communities in terms of health costs.
“I urge you to stand together,” he added.
“We’re in it to show we care,” said Mayor Mike Ruttan, who also took part.
Last year the walk raised $25,000 locally. Although Frood said that this year’s fundraising total wouldn’t be available until later this week, a Facebook post by Minions stated that the community has already raised more than $20,000.
Blue Sea Foundation co-ordinates Coldest Night of the Year in 120 communities across the country. The foundation contacted Frood a little more than a year ago to see if Port Alberni would join the national effort. Within six weeks they were set to go.
“I think it’s symbolic,” she said. “It’s about bringing people in from the cold.”