Roughly 300 people took part in the 2023 Coldest Night of the Year event in Sudbury, raising funds for the Samaritan Centre downtown, which provides services to homeless and vulnerable people locally.
Coldest Night of the Year walks took place in 182 locations across Canada on Feb. 25. The event is billed on its website as “a winterrific family-friendly walk to raise money for local charities serving people experiencing hurt, hunger, and homelessness.”
Sudbury’s event began from Science North, with participants having the choice of either a two or five-kilometre walk looping through Bell Park. The stories of homeless people were posted throughout the route so participants could reflect on the people they’re helping.
“The theme of today is it’s not just a walk in the park for the homeless, right? But it’s just a walk in the park for us,” said Mark Dennie, executive director of the Samaritan Centre, speaking at the Feb. 25 event.
He said the organization had set a fundraising goal of $85,000 for the event, but had already brought in $120,000 as of his last count on Saturday.
The Samaritan Centre building itself is run by a registered charity called New Hope Outreach Services.
It houses several tenants, including Blue Door Soup Kitchen, which provides lunches, and the Elgin Street Mission, which provides breakfasts and suppers.
The newest tenant in the building, a drug rehabilitation organization called Teen Challenge, only started operating out of the building in January.
“Then we have a drop-in centre that's run by New Hope upstairs, where 1-5 p.m. during the week, people can come in and use the internet, they can get their mail, they can use the phone lines,” Dennie said. “There's also laundry facilities and a hairdresser. That's in the building. We also have outreach services that go to people on the streets that need any supplies.”
During the earlier part of the pandemic, the Blue Door Soup Kitchen and Elgin Street Mission provided take-out meals only to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to clients. The drop-in centre continued to operate with masking in place, as per public health guidelines.
Dennie said the meal services returned to their normal in-person format in April 2022, when public health guidelines were relaxed.
COVID-19 took a toll “not only on old folks, it's also taken more of a toll on homelessness as well,” Dennie said, adding that the opioid crisis also took a turn for the worse in Greater Sudbury during that time period.
The Coldest Night of the Year event is the Samaritan Centre’s single largest fundraiser.
“So what happens is, we're able to decrease costs,” Dennie said. “We pay all the utilities in the building, and we charge very little, right? The more money we make, the less rent we're going to charge. And that's going to be reciprocated by the amount of food that they can give out and the programs that are running.”
If you’re interested in donating to the Coldest Night of the Year, you can do so online here.
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.