Coldest Night of the Year receives warm response

A group of walkers head down Dundas Street on a February evening during the Coldest Night of the Year, promoting homelessness awareness and supporting the work of the Morningstar Mission. With 125 walkers, the revived event raised $34,882 for the mission’s operations. Photo by Adam Bramburger.

Adam Bramburger
Beaver Staff

On Saturday night, close to 200 people took to the streets of Napanee to sacrifice their evening for others who might not be out on those streets by choice.

The Morningstar Mission revived the Coldest Night of the Year walk, a fundraiser that had previously helped the Salvation Army work with the homeless and the community put its feet forward with great generosity. Through the work of 125 walkers and over 50 volunteers, some $34,882 was raised to help the mission in its efforts to serve the disadvantaged and homeless.

Executive director Kevin Alkenbrack said he’d talked to many participants who hadn’t ever gone out to ask people to pledge money, but who felt compelled to do something. He was “ecstatic” to find that effort had brought in 174 per cent of the target goal as of Tuesday and grateful to those that contributed.

According to Alkenbrack, it was a good time to revive the event.

“It was super timing this year because of where homelessness is on the radar. Many have heard of the gentleman under the bridge or the trailer park and everything that happened there. It has really shone a light on homelessness. There’s no one in Napanee any more who would say it doesn’t exist.”

With that awareness and a quick effort led by Morningstar and Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Social Services to open warning centre, awareness has been heightened, which allows for the promotion of the principles that founded the mission at the corner of West and Water streets.

“We as an organization have tried to push the idea these are our people. Once they’re homeless, they’re often in rough shape,” he said. “They’re human beings in need of love and when we can see these people as our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and friends it’s easier to be motivated to mane change.”

Alkenbrack said he hopes in the future, the walk will become a legacy event where even if homelessness slips back into the shadows, it can renew that awareness each winter.

Many joined with the mission’s regular volunteer group to make the night a reality. Former Napanee OPP detachment commander Pat Finnegan encouraged a group of about 30 Loyalist College justice students to take part to help with registration, route safety, and rest stops. Local churches also helped.

Kristine Potvin was one of those students. She said she really believes in Morningstar’s work.

“They do such great things for wonderful people. There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t have anywhere to go and they don’t know if they’re going to get a warm meal or have a place to be. I think it’s just wonderful that we do this. We do it for animals, we need to do it for people too.”

While directing traffic, Potvin counted her blessings for a clear, warm night, but not for too long.

“We are blessed that it’s warm for us tonight. Other people aren’t as lucky. That’s why we’re here.”

Young and old alike streamed out of the Morningstar Mission en route and most could be easily identified by their signature blue toques shuffling down Bridge Street, Dundas Street or side streets.

A team from the Roblin Wesleyan Church that called themselves “Up to Snow Good” stood out a bit from the crowd with their uniforms of hand-knit purple toques, the colour for homelessness awareness.  The group shares a Bible study together and they felt an urge to participate.

“We wanted to support this initiative and help to raise awareness and money for hurting, homeless, and hungry people in our town. A lot of us have a heart for Morningstar and we wanted to be as helpful as we could be,” said spokesperson Lynda Carney. “It’s well used and there’s clearly a need.”

Asked why they supported Morningstar in particular, group member Kristy Dunham had a succinct answer.

“Just because it’s there. I don’t know how to explain it. You either have it or you don’t.”

Carney said their team found they raised more money than they thought they would and they intended to give it their all on the walking course. Given a choice of going 2 km, 5 km, or 10 km they played to “go as long as we can.”

Following the time on the route, the volunteers and walkers shared in a communal meal, reminiscent of a service the Morningstar Mission provides regularly for all comers four days a week.

Alkenbrack told the Beaver the influx of funding comes at a good time as the added awareness of homelessness has put some pressure on the capacity of the mission to serve.

“Awareness around our services have grown. We have seen our demands grow. As people become more aware, we have more referrals to our meals. Clients are also more aware, there are people of low income that are coming and using food bank services, using our meal programs and just coming and generally connecting on a more regular basis.”

That means more stress on overhead expenses and stress on a building that needs roof and wall repairs.

“Us being the signature charity for this walk, that money will allow us to do a lot of things and make us sustainable going forward,” he said, adding the focus isn’t just on programming, but also advocating for services for homeless clients and additional addictions and mental health supports.

On Saturday, Mayor Marg Isbester said those efforts are much appreciated.

“We maybe have to mention how great Morningstar Mission is. It started, continued to grow and supports every part of our community. So much work is done behind the scenes,” she said. “The warming centre wouldn’t have happened, the meals five days a week wouldn’t happen.”

Isbester encouraged those who walked to consider volunteering to help the mission in other ways.

Those who missed the walk also still have a chance to give financial support. The Coldest Night of the Year web site remains live at until April 31. In-person donations at Morningstar are also accepted.

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