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By Connie Spuria, Communications & PR Manager, Mission Services of London

On Saturday, Feb. 20th more than 15,000 Canadians of all ages - in six time zones, in cities and towns from the Pacific to the Atlantic – put on appropriate footwear and walked together in the "Coldest Night of the Year". Walkers in some parts of the country, like Yellowknife, would have needed boots. Here in London shoes were not out of place as walkers set-off just after 5:00pm with the temperature around five degrees. Regardless of what the thermometre reads, no night is colder and darker than the one faced alone with little hope for tomorrow. This event tries to shed some light on that. Local Event Director Irma Haggith-Fonseca at Mission Services of London explains that, “This event helps participants understand what it might be like if they walked to some of our branches on a downtown route that is 2km, 5km or 10km -walker's choice. The event originators from Kitchener sought to raise awareness around homelessness and the risk of homelessness in various locations and nationally, which is why it happens across the country on the same day."

2016 marked the fifth anniversary of Mission Services of London hosting the walk in our city. We had a fantastic turnout with over 300 participants. Pre-event, walkers assembled in the gym at Catholic Central High School and were energized by pop music courtesy of our volunteer DJ. Along the route we noticed snow melting and wondered if it was the unusually warm weather or the warmth of people with their hearts on their heels. Post-event, everyone returned to the cafeteria for tangy, tasty chili made by an employee at our Community Mental Health Programs branch. Balloon animals and face painting were enjoyed by kids and kids at heart.

"As our event continues to grow, so does the list of those who deserve more thanks than we can give personally,” says organizing committee member Jessica Weaver. “Thank you to all of our walkers, supporters and volunteers. We would also like to extend thanks to our community sponsors and national corporate challenge partners. Event sponsorship, which was done for the first time this year, included goods and services, teams of walkers, and volunteer support on event day. As a result of all contributions, we were able to dial up the wow factor."

We are thrilled to say we’ve reached our $60,000 fundraising goal...and we're still counting. Proceeds will help support clients through our five branches. We may never know the people who come to our branches for reasons as different as snowflakes. Yet we are grateful that through community efforts like this one, we can provide cups of coffee, smiles, a place to do laundry, a place to stay when in crisis, and help with plans for brighter days ahead. Next year’s event date is Sat. Feb. 25, 2017.