The Coldest Night of the Year is coming to Oshawa

Photo provided by Mika Takamaki

A previous year's Coldest Night of the Year walk.

Ever wondered what it’s like to be homeless in winter? Find out on the Coldest Night of the Year, a walk held on Feb. 24 across Canada to help raise funds for various organizations.

The event is a walk in the cold to help give participants an idea of what it’s like to live out in the cold.

It is organized by Blue Sea Philanthropy, which funds the event and purchases the promotional materials, pays for tax receipts and runs the website.

“We totally understand it’s not anything like being homeless, but for a couple of hours, walking in the cold and the dark, hopefully people will think on a little deeper level about these kinds of issues,” said Mika Takamaki, 53, who works at the Blue Sea Philanthropy’s main office in Kitchener.

The event is run by different charities across Canada. Each charity holds its own walk, and keeps most of the funds to help them in their work. This year there are 123 locations.

A percentage is given to Blue Sea Philanthropy, to pay for expenses.

Oshawa’s walk is being hosted by The Refuge on Court Street, an organization which helps homeless youth through various programs.

It will begin at Lviv Hall. There are three walk routes: two, five or 10-kilometres.

“The walk is one of our biggest fundraisers,” said Amanda May, events coordinator at The Refuge, which runs on donations.

The funds raised for The Refuge will be used for “paying the bills – the heat, the electricity, laundry services, showers, running the kitchens, and buying food.”

The Refuge raised over $71,000 last year in the event, said May.

“Our goal is $70,000, so we surpassed it a little bit.”

The Oshawa event is “one of our best walks,” said Takamaki.

About 400 people participated in the event last year, May said, excluding volunteers.

Anyone interested in signing up or volunteering for the event can go to the website, search for Oshawa, and sign up with the appropriate tab.

There is a variety of “roles” for volunteers, including food, welcome, registration, rest stop hosts, route marshals, and directing parking.

There are “usually between 40-50 volunteers, maybe a little more sometimes,” May said.

“Last year the walk took place in 113 locations and we had 21,000 walkers across Canada and they raised $4.6 million,” said Takamaki.

The first walk was held in 2011 in Kitchener and Toronto, raising $110,000.

“In the seven years since Coldest Night started we’ve raised $16 million for charities,” Takamaki said.

“In 123 locations, there’s a local charity raising money for its own work, but still a part of the national event,” Takamaki said.

Funds can be raised through teams or individuals. Each person or team who signs up will get their own page on the website to help promote themselves and get sponsors for the event.

The sponsors can be from anywhere, since “about 80 per cent of the money is raised online.”

Each participant must also pay to walk in the event, in order to raise funds.

There is also a specific category for school entries.

“Last year our schools raised about $100,000,” Takamaki said, “in the event across Canada. So, our colleges did pretty well in fundraising in the event.”