Open Arms' Coldest Night walk raises thousands of dollars to help battle poverty

Kirk Starratt
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KENTVILLE - With more and more people searching for a helping hand with life necessities such as food, clothing and shelter, it’s fortunate that Valley generosity knows no bounds.

Although the event website was indicating that only 96 per cent of the $75,000 fundraising goal had been reached, Pastor John Andrew, Open Arms executive director, said that the Coldest Night of the Year walk brought in $78,968 as of 10 p.m. Feb. 20.

He said there were more than 500 participants by the time the walk got underway shortly after 5 p.m. Participants, many teams and some individuals, chose to walk a 2 km, 5 km or 10 km route beginning at the Kentville fire hall. The funds raised for Open Arms will help people struggling with poverty.

Click here for a photo slideshow from the Coldest Night walk.

Andrew said people could donate online until March 15. He expects that, if all pledges are honoured, they’ll exceed $80,000. This makes the Annapolis Valley the top fundraising community for Coldest Night of the Year walks in the Atlantic and Quebec region.

“We wanted to be the leaders in that area,” he said. “We’ve kind of put our hopes and our plans and our budget for the following year around chasing after that goal.”

He said approximately 60 volunteers worked hard behind the scenes to make the walk a success and they’re appreciative of everyone else who helped.

Recognizing that the need is great, Open Arms is looking at establishing a third outreach centre in western Kings or eastern Annapolis County. They have existing facilities in Kentville and Berwick.

Andrew said they’d also like to be able to operate their shelter year-round. It’s only been open during the winter in recent years.

“It sucks to have no place to go anytime of year, so we want to re-establish that year-round shelter and that’s going to take some big resources to make those things happen,” Andrew said.

They don’t receive any government funding and money raised through the walk represents the bulk of what they raise in the community. Money raised through the walk comes back to the organization in the form of a grant. He said the Coldest Night event indicates the level of support that exists for Open Arms.

Andrew said that when someone’s life is falling apart and they’re in crisis, it takes a huge community effort and a lot of resources to help that person get back on their feet. In the past 12 years, more than 1,000 people have needed to spend at least one night, maybe more, in the Open Arms shelter.

He said Open Arms would serve approximately 30,000 meals in Kentville this year, which is a lot for a small town.

“It doesn’t mean everyone is starving who comes nor is everyone homeless, but it’s about building a support system and a system by which somebody can move forward in life,” Andrew said.

Participant perspectives

Ruby Hyndman of Kentville, a member of the Hulas team, said she’s had some extra time on her hands and wanted to use it to help Open Arms. It’s important to her that funds raised stay in the community to help those who need it most. Hyndman was pleased to see an increase over last year in the number of people walking.

“It’s definitely growing,” she said.

Hulas member April Brown of New Minas said the Coldest Night walk also serves the important purpose of raising awareness of issues surrounding homelessness.

Carson Bezanson of Kentville said participating was important to him because a lot of people are homeless, left out in the cold. More shelters are needed.

He said more people should be out walking to raise funds for Open Arms. A lot of people take but they don’t give back. He said there seems to be a lot of help available for others but not the homeless.

“There’s not enough money necessarily, with the government, the way they’re going," Bezanson said.

Event secretary Heather Keddy said this was her first time volunteering and thought the turnout was excellent. She said the fundraiser is needed because there are a lot of people who don’t have the means to provide for basic necessities such as meals.

“This is a great way to give them the help they need during the year,” Keddy said.

What they said…

“You know the expression ‘it takes a village to raise a child’? It takes a village to raise someone back up again, too, and I like to think that we’re part of that.” – Pastor John Andrew, Open Arms executive director

“I want to warm the souls up and bring the love back to the community.” - Carson Bezanson, walk participant

“I just felt it was important to give back to people who had maybe helped out me.” – Heather Keddy, event secretary

Organizations: Open Arms

Geographic location: Kentville, Annapolis Valley, Atlantic Quebec Kings Eastern Annapolis

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