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Lofty goal for this year's Coldest Night walk

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Some volunteers with Orillia's Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser prepare for the event. This year's walk takes place on Feb. 25. SUBMITTED

Some volunteers with Orillia's Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser prepare for the event. This year's walk takes place on Feb. 25. SUBMITTED

Orillia's Coldest Night of the Year has a grand fundraising goal for 2017.

A hundred grand, that is.

Organizers are hopeful $100,000 can be raised at the fourth annual walk, taking place Feb. 25 in Orillia. The money brought in goes toward day-to-day operations at the Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter, as well as the Building Hope initiative.

Linda Goodall, executive director of the Lighthouse and co-chair of the Orillia walk, is confident the six figure total can be reached.

"We feel like we can do it," she said. "Our community has just come together and rallied behind Coldest Night of the Year. We just really feel like we can hit that $100,000 goal."

Last year's walk was a huge success, nearly doubling the goal set by organizers. In 2016, the 450 walkers who came out to Coldest Night of the Year raised $99,250, $44,250 more than what had been hoped for. That allowed nearly half the money raised to be put toward Building Hope, while ensuring the Lighthouse's regular financial commitments remained looked after, Goodall told The Packet & Times last spring, when final numbers from 2016 were released.

Goodall hopes to see 500 people out this year, comprising of 50 teams. So far 16 teams have signed up.

Those who have taken part in the Coldest Night before will notice a small difference in the route walked this year.

"The 5km and 10km routes will be going by our Building Hope property," Goodall said. "We wanted to make sure the routes would come by the Lighthouse, where we currently are and then go down to Queen Street to see where we'll be moving to."

The $6 million Building Hope initiative, which will house a new shelter amidst other social agencies, is still a few years away from completion. Goodall expects more information about Building Hope and its timeline will be revealed at this year's Coldest Night.

She feels more people see the plight of the homeless in the community by taking part in the Coldest Night of the Year. Each year, organizers attempt to bring in a speaker who has lived experience with homelessness to share his/her story with the walkers during the evening.

The hardship of homelessness can hardly be replicated through a 5km walk, Goodall admits, but an understanding and appreciation of the problem can be furthered through participation. A desire to do something about it can be fostered through taking part in the event.

"Last year, a gentleman walked in the walk and he sent me an e-mail that night," Goodall recalled. "He said he was so moved, walking down the sidewalk, seeing all these children, babies, adults, teens, the elderly, everyone coming together to walk for a purpose...He e-mailed me that night to say 'I need to volunteer, I need to get involved.'"

One year later, that man is still volunteering, she said.

Registration for the Feb. 25 Coldest Night of the Year starts at 4 p.m. at Lions Oval. Opening ceremonies start at 5 p.m. and the 2km, 5km and 10km walks begin at 5:15 p.m. A meal will be served to participants between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

More than 16,000 meals are served at the Lighthouse annually.

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