Wingham residents brave the cold to help others

WINGHAM – A beacon of light in the darkness can guide a ship towards safety, and so too, a guiding light can steer people who have fallen on hard times, lost in the lonely unknown, towards help.

Wingham residents shone their guiding lights in a big way on Feb. 25, reaching out their hands in love and friendship to those who need a helping hand in their community.

The 2023 Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) event in Wingham saw over 100 caring humans brave the cold, harsh weather, leaving the comfort of their warm homes to raise money for the Northern Huron Connection Centre (NHCC), a beacon of light scheduled to open in April.

United Way Perth-Huron’s Northern Huron and Area Community Committee invited people to walk with them to end chronic homelessness.

Many townspeople walked in support of the planned new Northern Huron Connection Centre (NHCC).

CNOYs website said it is meant to be a welcoming place offering basic needs such as light meals, a shower, washroom facilities, and laundry and support through partnerships with numerous agencies.

“Homelessness isn’t just about sleeping on the streets. A person may be in a temporary shelter, incarcerated without a place to go afterwards or ‘couch surfing.’ It affects almost every aspect of life including family well-being, employment and physical and mental health.”

Sixteen teams, 71 walkers, and 31 volunteers gathered at the Maitland River Community Church, where they departed for either a 2.5 km or a 5 km walk around town, with checkpoints along the way, including St. Paul’s Trinity Anglican Church at John and Centre streets, where walkers got a glimpse of the renovations happening that will transform the basement of the church into the NHCC.

North Huron Reeve Paul Heffer thanked participants for their participation on behalf of the township.

“Thank you ever so much, everybody, for coming out…and for your volunteerism to come out and put in this effort, to go to a wonderful cause, the United Way. There will be people that are going to really benefit from this,” said Heffer.

Also in attendance, Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson welcomed the generous crowd with laughter and gratitude.

“I started my day off in Ottawa, and it was minus 18, and I thought about all of you gathering here today,” Thompson said. “Oh, my goodness, I thought, it’s really going to be the coldest night of the year.

“But what’s warming is the community spirit here and the support that’s going towards really, really important things, such as the amazing facility that we have up on Centre Street here in Wingham.

“From the young to the young at heart, to support something that really completes our community and shows the giving spirit that North Huron has. So, thank you so much for walking.”

United Way Perth-Huron Director Ryan Erb thanked the walkers, volunteers, and sponsors and talked about the people who would now have access to showers, laundry facilities, and connections to other life-changing services.

He spoke about the price of food and the struggles of those who have to choose between food, bills, and housing.

“Inflation is hitting all of us, and imagine if you’re someone that’s just a few dollars short of your rent; what are you going to do?” said Erb. “So, this is an important service for all kinds of people. We’re looking forward to launching it, and our friends at the Canadian Mental Health Association are going to be operating it for us.

“The United Way will continue to raise money in partnership with friends of the church and all kinds of other organizations that will be dropping by to provide service on site to people as they need it.”

Thanks to United Way, its partners, and donors, almost 900 vulnerable people in Northern Huron (including North Huron, Howick, and Morris-Turnberry) have the chance for a brighter future, including:

- 5,312 visits to access food;

- 134 people called 211 to connect with services;

- 97 seniors accessed transportation;

- 89 women escaping violence sheltered;

- 76 people in crisis accessed financial support;

- 37 participants in Poverty 2 Prosperity; and

- four youths accessed housing and supports.

The fundraising efforts so far have raised $21,790, nearly half the target of $45,000.

Donations for this campaign will remain open until March 31. To donate, visit

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times