Elgin County residents showed their support for youth homelessness initiatives as 140 people walked two, five, or ten kilometres around St. Thomas on February 23rd. They were joined by 21,000 walkers across Canada who participated in Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY), a charity walk for organizations that support the hungry, homeless, and hurting in our communities.

Coldest Night of the Year St. Thomas
Photo: Emily Olsen, Establish Media

In St. Thomas and Elgin County, Coldest Night of the Year has been run by Elgin County Youth For Christ/Youth Unlimited (YFC) for four years in a row. This year, the walkers raised a total of $20,500, with more donations still coming in, which surpassed YFC’s goal of $20,000.

The funds will go to the various programs run by YFC, including the emergency youth shelter that provides a safe place to stay and a warm meal for youth in crisis. Youth for Christ’s programs are centred around their mission statement: We see the hope and potential in every young person. Donations fund the emergency shelter, youth group, after school drop in program, SafeTalk and ASK (Assessing for Suicide in Kids) workshops, building costs, and staff salaries. Coldest Night of the Year is an important fundraiser that helps keep YFC running.

Coldest Night of the Year St. Thomas family walking
Photo: Emily Olsen, Establish Media

Mandy Weeks, one of the staff at YFC Elgin County, is thrilled with the results. “The support has been amazing this year,” she says. Not only was their financial goal surpassed, more than double the number of people donated to the cause. According to Kyle Rolph, who runs Youth Homelessness Initiatives at YFC, that number is just as important, since it means their reach doubled as well. “We’re trying to raise awareness too, that we’re here and that we’re ready to help,” he says.

Kyle and Mandy attribute the event’s expanding reach to word of mouth, social media, and the ads they ran on Cineplex pre-shows and Tim Hortons TV. Reaching out to St. Thomas high schools also had an impact. Kyle was invited to St. Joseph’s Catholic High School to speak in several classrooms about YFC’s work, and the students responded by donating bags of clothes and organizing a large team to walk in CNOY. “We’re a youth organization,” Mandy says, “so to see the youth coming out to support other youth is a beautiful thing.”

Kyle Rolph and his daughter Emma getting ready to walk in CNOY
Kyle Rolph and his daughter Emma getting ready to walk in CNOY. | Photo: Emily Olsen, Establish Media

February 23rd didn’t turn out to be the coldest evening of the year, as the temperature stayed around zero and the freezing rain held off until the walkers were finished. However, Kyle notes that the goal is not to duplicate the situation of a person in crisis, which is impossible with an hour walk that ends with a warm meal. The walkers are “out walking for an hour, then they go back and eat, then go home and stay somewhere warm, where there’s a lot of kids we support that this is an every night thing for them, or a few nights at a time,” he says.

“We’re not trying to say we know what it’s like to walk in someone’s shoes an hour one evening, but we’re coming together and raising some awareness that there are people that don’t have that luxury of having somewhere safe and consistent to lay their head at night,” Kyle says. “There’s people in the community who want to help them out with that.”

If you want to support YFC, you can still donate to Coldest Night of the Year here until March 31. Check out YFC’s website to learn about their volunteering opportunities or donate to them directly.