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Out of the Cold Café founder brings 'joy and relief' to clients

Space serves as a café for limited hours during the day and as an extreme cold overnight warming centre when the temperature drops to -10 C or below

WOW Living is a charitable organization based in Bradford at their new location at 177 Church Street (suite 1426), which seeks to provide people with relief from the hardships of poverty.

The Out of the Cold Café is one of WOW Living’s initiatives; the space serves as a café for limited hours during the day and as an extreme cold overnight warming centre when the temperature drops to -10 C or below. 

Gail Smart has been volunteering with WOW Living for three years. She is a co-founder of the Out of the Cold Café.

“I’m one of the first faces you will meet when you come through our doors and nothing feels better than to see the joy and relief on a client's face as we say, ‘You’re in the right place now,’” Smart said. 

In a joint statement to BradfordToday, WOW Living executive director Jodi Greenstreet and Smart said that when the temperature drops, Extreme Cold Overnight Warming Centre (ECOWC) coordinator Jacquie Ridout puts the call out to the ECOWC team to coordinate who will work the 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. shift; there must be two people working on every shift. 

Derek Thomas is one of the 15 volunteers who make up the ECOWC team.

“When we open for our overnight warming centre, the main responsibility is to provide a warm, safe and welcoming environment,” Thomas said.

“This includes making sure our guests can have a good meal, coffee and conversation if wanted. We also offer help in finding other resources for our friends that they might not be aware of such as 211 Ontario or Connected for Success — (which is) phone and internet service for people on assistance — and many other resources.”

Thomas has been volunteering with the Out of the Cold Café since 2021. When asked why the Bradford resident chose to volunteer, Thomas explained that he had been interested in volunteering for a while. Once he learned about the Out of the Cold Café, he decided to join them. “Honestly, it was the best decision of my life. I have learned so much about my community, myself and others.”

Thomas explained that he has gained much more than volunteer experience at the Out of the Cold Café.

“(I’ve) built relationships with people that extend outside of the café and have had so many opportunities for growth and development. It feels amazing to be a part of a team that is making a difference in people’s lives,” Thomas said.

“It goes beyond just those in need for a warm meal; the café is a place where friends gather to be together. I often find myself going in just to see what’s up and say hi even when I am not on shift.”

Now in its second year, Greenstreet and Smart explained that the Extreme Cold Overnight Warming Centre, which is funded by Simcoe County, has helped up to three people in a single night this year, which is less than the seven people assisted in a single night last season.

Throughout the day, the Out of the Cold Café welcomes 15 to 50 guests each day, and more than 700 people have received free clothing from WOW Living’s A Hand Up Clothing Room.

Greenstreet and Smart explained that they have helped seven guests find housing by working alongside and connecting them with local agencies like Ontario Works, CONTACT Community Services, and  SHIFT, as well as local churches like Bondhead United Church and Bradford Community Church.

“This may include help filling out forms or searching for apartments, drives to appointments, (completing) tax returns, opening bank accounts, ID replacement, help with furniture & moving,” Greenstreet and Smart said. They also help connect people in need with a case manager from Ontario Works and a local realtor.

“We have been blessed to earn trust with a handful of Bradford landlords who allow us to place guests in their rental units,” they explained. “‘It takes a village,’ or in this case a lot of collaboration and teamwork.”

“Out of the Cold Café and the people who are a part of it do amazing things, for and with the help of our community,” Thomas said.

“There is a great sense of friendship among the people who walk through those doors. The relationships that I have seen blossom, the growth, skills and confidence of people is something I cherish being a part of,” Thomas said.

WOW Living has partnered with United Way Simcoe Muskoka for the Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) walk on Saturday, Feb. 24. To learn more about this event or to make a donation, click here. Check out WOW Living online and on Facebook.

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Amber Green

About the Author: Amber Green

Amber is a freelance journalist with InnisfilToday. Dedicated to the craft of writing, she is a storyteller at heart who writes novels, poetry, and short stories. She lives in Innisfil.
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