There are three dozen Coldest Night of the Year walks in B.C., but Balbir Gurm chooses to walk in Whalley, where she says the need is great and most visible.
The annual CNOY event returns in-person Saturday, Feb. 25 as “a winterrific family-friendly walk to raise money for local charities serving people experiencing hurt, hunger, and homelessness,” as described on the website cnoy.org/location/surreywhalley.
Gurm, a nursing instructor at KPU and recent appointee to Surrey Libraries board, has walked the Coldest Night of the Year for several years, and is Whalley’s top fundraiser for 2023, so far, as lead of the Caring Citizens team.
On Feb. 25, people will meet at Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre at 4 p.m., start moving at 5 p.m., munch some food at 6 p.m. and “mosey goodbye” by 7 p.m., in support of event host Surrey Road to Home Society.
The fundraising goal in Whalley is a modest $20,000 — a far cry from the twin $250,000 goals at larger CNOY events in both Cloverdale (for Cloverdale Community Kitchen) and White Rock/South Surrey (Sources Community Resources Society). In Delta, a walk with a $34,000 goal is hosted by Deltassist.
Gurm said she’s always trying to recruit more people to do the Whalley walk with her, some friends and family members.
“It supported Surrey Urban Mission years ago when I first got involved,” Gurm explained, “and I chose the event because I do live in Whalley, and I find that a lot of my friends, especially from the university, they all go to South Surrey to do the walk.
“And now a few people are going to the Cloverdale one,” Gurm added, “but I’m trying to promote the Whalley one, where you’ve got a core of homeless people and a lot of the services are there, and they need more services. I’m going to where the need is most.”
Surrey Road to Home Society “has a vast membership representing the many hard-working service providers in Surrey,” a bio says. It’s “a coalition of community organizations working together to prevent and reduce homelessness in Surrey with a vision that everyone in Surrey is appropriately housed.”
Jonquil Hallgate organizes Whalley’s CNOY event.
“My goal has always been the first group in Canada to get to a million dollars, but the reality is more money is raised at the Cloverdale and White Rock walks,” Hallgate confirmed. “They’ve done really well, and that’s brilliant because it feeds a huge need in the community. Those two events have a bit of a reach, and here in Whalley we work to get more people out to our walk, hopefully a couple hundred.”
Walkers who raise at least $150 will receive a CNOY toque as a thank-you on event day (or $75+ for those under 18).
“And it’s sort of like Toque Tuesday,” Hallgate said, “where if the weather is crumby and isn’t all sunshine, well those are the days that the homeless have to endure. We might have a bit of rain, but those aren’t conditions that should prevent someone from coming out for half hour, an hour, to walk with us.”
The Coldest Night of the Year cause was launched in 2011 in Toronto, and has since grown to involve more than 31,000 participants in 166 locations. Close to $12 million was raised at CNOY events in 2022.
In Whalley, Gurm will look to add to the $1,400 raised by her Caring Citizens team.
“To me,” she said, “it’s really important to do this because it addresses social issues, and we’re trying to be part of the solution. It’s raising money but also raising awareness, so that we can lobby government for more housing and more services to help people get off the street.
“Sometimes people throw up their hands and say, ‘Oh, the homeless don’t want to be housed,’” Gurm added. “But sometimes that’s because we don’t teach them the skills of living in a house. I had students working there before, and what we found was some of the patrons, I’ll call them, didn’t know how to turn on their electricity – they’ve never paid an electric bill in their life. Others had no idea what utensils they needed for their kitchen, you know. We need to teach the basic skills, and we can start by raising awareness of those issues.”
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