Chris Van Zeyl described it as a brief moment of beauty after a very challenging night.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman finally fell asleep in his car around this time last year while attending Hamilton’s United Way of Halton and Sleepless in Our Cities fundraiser. He opened his eyes and the condensation from his breath had formed on the windshield just inches from his face.
“It was crystallized and looked beautiful. I remember waking up and saying, ‘Gosh, I’m cold!'” said Van Zeyl.
Luckily for him, after eight or nine hours in his car parked in front of his home in Burlington, Ontario, Van Zeyl was able to just get out and walk inside to see his three-year-old son Colton and his one-year-old son. old daughter, Adelyn.
His efforts raised about $8,000 last year and this year he’s aiming for the $10,000 mark, with his fundraising taking place through social media.
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Support Chris and help raise awareness of poverty and homelessness in our community! 👇
— Hamilton Tiger-Cats (@Ticats) February 9, 2021
Sleepless in Our Cities aims to raise awareness of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and the challenges many people face during the winter months. Last year Van Zeyl spent the night in his car in temperatures of minus 10 degrees. An avid hunter who also goes ice fishing, he’ll be back in layers and a sleeping bag on Friday night with similar temperatures and a cold wind awaiting.
Like last year, he will not start his car for the duration of the night. He’ll just try to stay warm and wait for the combination of sunlight and the frosted windshield to mark the time when he can go back inside.
“It was cold,” he said of last year’s experiences. “I mean, extremely uncomfortable. It’s one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever had to do in my life. To think that people have to do that every night in winter when it’s cold… it’s hard.”
As uncomfortable as he was in the car, the thought of being in a situation where he and his family slept in the car during the winter really hit him.
“I can’t imagine them sleeping on the street or sleeping in the back of a car,” said Van Zeyl. “It’s an opportunity to raise awareness for people who need to do this every day.”
Van Zeyl, a 12-year CFL veteran entering his third season with the Ticats, made every effort to take on community initiatives when asked. That began with his 10 seasons with the Toronto Argonauts and has extended into his time playing for his former rivals at Hamilton. Van Zeyl, the 2021 winner of the CFL’s Jake Gadaur Veterans’ Award, presented to a Canadian player who embodies the qualities of Canada’s veterans, said his parents stressed to him as a child the importance of helping and give something back.
“I have to tip my parents,” he said.
“I basically grew up near a church and went there every Sunday and we had youth ministry and stuff like that that I was involved with as a little kid. (The lesson) was always giving to the community, giving back to people in need, that kind of narrative.
“I just brought it with me. When people ask for help, I’m usually there to help. It’s just a call to be a good person I guess. I try my best to do the right thing when asked.”
Van Zeyl is accepting donations through United Way Halton and Hamilton ahead of Friday 25th February. If you can, you can donate here.