It’s not every day that near-freezing temperatures and thickly falling snow turn out to be the perfect conditions for an outdoor charity event.
With snowflake-laced toques and chilled red cheeks, more than 150 walkers set off from Langley’s Gateway of Hope emergency shelter Saturday, Feb. 22, for the first local Coldest Night of the Year walk to raise funds and awareness for homelessness.
“Look at how many people came out in the cold, the wet and the snow because they want to say, ‘We care,’” said Troy Gaglardi, director of operations at Gateway of Hope.
Local leaders like Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese and Langley City Councillor Gayle Martin were on hand to kick off the event and thank participants for braving the weather to support their community.
Across Canada, Coldest Night of the Year has raised $2.4 million through partner groups like the Salvation Army’s Gateway of Hope since 2011. The event aims to raise revenue for local charities while providing participants with the opportunity to experience a small hint of the challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness in their community.
A 2011 homelessness count found 105 persons trying to make ends meet without housing in Langley, and a fresh Metro Vancouver survey is planned for March 2014.
Early estimates suggest that the Langley walk only raised $15,000 of the $25,000 fundraising goal, but Gaglardi said he considered the event a successful public relations initiative.
“We believe people have intrinsic value, no matter what their status is in life. So we want people to know that, we want them to realize that and we want them to feel that,” he said.
Gaglardi said he was surprised when far more walkers showed up for the 5:15 p.m. start that had registered online.
Participants walked two, five or 10 kilometres and were greeted back at the Gateway of Hope with hot drinks and a warm chili dinner with some of the facility’s residents.
“One of the reasons why we thought that this Coldest Night of the Year initiative was a good one was that it communicates that the Salvation Army is here in town and we want to provide to those that have needs,” he said, explaining this is a crucial message both for the majority of Langley’s community as well as those who may be seeking services.
The funds raised this weekend will stay in Langley at the Gateway of Hope, to support various forms of programming. Alongside short and longer term housing, Gateway of Hope, located at 5787 Langley Bypass, provides a cook’s training program, life skills training, financial literacy assistance, medical care and access to computers.
“This facility has been a fantastic asset in the city,” Froese said at the Coldest Night event kickoff, crediting collaboration between all levels of government and the Salvation Army for the success. Organizers say more than 16,000 volunteer hours were spent just last year at Gateway of Hope.