Every Thursday we pop by the walk-up take-out window of Capital Espresso, a local coffee shop that for years has provided The Dale with their very tasty day-old muffins. We chat a bit, pick up whatever they have to donate, and oftentimes leave with a free drip coffee in our hands. Our relationship has deepened over time, slowly learning one another’s names and one another’s schedules. Before Covid we would rejoice if we could grab a table to de-brief after a drop-in. During Covid, we like to look in the window as we pass by on outreach, waving to our friends. Not too long ago we had money to purchase a large order of freshly baked muffins to give out at our meal-to-go, an opportunity to give back after being shown such generosity over the years. It felt like everyone was winning: The Dale felt so happy to offer support, our community got a treat, and Capital Espresso’s baker got to rise early to make a sizeable order for the first time in months due to the pandemic.

That experience sparked an idea. What if we could do this again? What if we could purchase food from a larger variety of restaurants in the neighbourhood in order to keep feeding our community who is well acquainted with food insecurity, while supporting businesses so run down by Covid? The Dale has always believed that something beautiful happens when sharing food: conversations happen, relationships form, and a unique sense of community is developed. While we grieve that we can’t sit around tables as we would like right now, we celebrate that food keeps us connected throughout each week.

I am very excited to share that from June 21st to 27th The Dale will be launching an on-line registry, a place for you to discover what our needs are right now and support us in meeting them. In addition to items like socks and sleeping bags, we will be highlighting a variety of Parkdale restaurants, all of whom have agreed to be a part of this project. You might be in a position to make a donation that will cover 50 meals from Ali’s Roti, or one gift card for Momos from Loga’s Corner, or 25 breakfast burritos from Rustic Cosmo, or muffins from Capital Espresso. Imagine the impact on both our direct community and neighbourhood partners!

One of the core values of The Dale is “full participation”. We believe that everyone has something important to give and receive, and that we can each flourish when supported to bring our full selves to the community. We think the same is true for our broader network of support. Your role in this Registry might be to tell someone else about it, or to buy an item, or to cover our efforts in prayer and good thoughts. You might be inspired to order from a restaurant local to yourself, which we would love to hear about. We are grateful for whatever way you are able to show up.

Please do save the dates!

It was just over a decade ago that I met Shannon “Chevy” Timmerman. Before I knew her name, I came to remember her amazing hair: auburn and curly and long. At the time she was painting with great frequency and would show up to ask for supplies like canvas and acrylic paint. It didn’t take long for our relationship to blossom. I don’t know when it started, but she came to adopt me, Dion and Cate as family, even referring to me as “mom” (though in reality our age difference made us more like siblings). 

Chevy lived with many challenges, some she would admit, of her own making. Over the years she willingly shared about her time living outside and all that went along with that. At one point she gave me a stack of hand-written pages containing her story. She hoped that in the future she might be able to teach others through her experience, a journey that included finding and losing and finding housing, addiction, Jesus, family, and friends.

Chevy found community at The Dale. She became a regular at most of our programming, almost always accompanied by one of her many pets. For a long time, that meant a cat, or two or three, all in a hand-constructed carrier/bundle buggy. The animal we came to know best though was Jacob, a little meek dog who only had eyes for Chevy. I have never known a dog to love its person like Jacob. 

I loved when Chevy began to attend The Dale’s Sunday service. She would often arrive while I was practicing songs at the piano, offer a hug, and disappear to the kitchen to make us both a cup of tea.  She had a particular spot she liked to sit near the front, with Jacob beside her. During our community prayer time Chevy would regularly share shockingly transparent prayers, ones that acknowledged her gratitude, struggle and longing for healing. She was hungry for communion and liked to offer the wine or juice to people with a “Jesus’ blood shed for you, get it in ya”. 

Chevy and I have shared a lot over the years. Just last week she was reminiscing about the Big Macs I would treat her to after successfully getting to important appointments. We have sat in countless waiting rooms together, visited the Art Gallery of Ontario, gone on walks, and shared meals in drop-ins. When my daughter Cate and I went on a trip to Italy, Chevy was insistent that I give her a picture of our experience, one that she framed and put on her living room wall. I have held her hand while she lay in the Intensive Care Unit, and she held mine when my mother died. 

Chevy could also drive me crazy. She liked to say, “I’m a loveable thorn in your side” and she was right. When she got a cell phone, I would sometimes get called more than twenty times a day. When she figured out voice-to-text, I would get streams of messages, often asking me for ice cream, Doritos, or Skittles (her favourite) and a long hug. Sometimes our interactions were challenging because she would ask me to do something that I simply could not. I do know that the depth of our relationship was possible, in part, to a strong commitment to boundaries. For that I am grateful. 

Just this morning we learned of Chevy’s death late last night. Right now, I am feeling a heavy sense of shock and deep sadness. I know the sadness is similarly felt by Joanna, Meagan and Olivia, along with the rest of the community. Chevy was one of many people I know who seemed to have more than nine lives, something that made it easy to feel like this day would never come. I want to extend my deepest sympathies to her family, those who knew her as Shannon. Shannon spoke often of wanting to get out to you in BC for another visit. I am so sorry for your loss.

Chev. Oh Chevy. I wish I could have been there to hold your hand. I trust you knew how much I loved you. You never let me forget that you loved me. Thank you. I wholeheartedly believe that you are being welcomed into the warm embrace of the Creator you always cried out to. This isn’t goodbye. 

Shannon Lee Timmerman June 21 1967 – May 5 2021

Music is wafting down the staircase from Cate’s room. I can hear her typing, working on a project. In just months, if all goes as planned, she will be working at the camp she has known since childhood. I will drive her up north and help set up her cabin. If it is a nice day, I might take a dip in the lake before hugging her goodbye and hopping back in the van. Dion and I will likely visit her once or twice over the course of the summer. We will have lunch in Parry Sound, wander through our favourite used bookstore, get Kawartha ice cream in waffle cones, admire the Georgian Bay, and then head back to Toronto before dark. In late August I will pick up sun-kissed, tired, and elated Cate. She will collapse into her bed and I will be grateful to peek in and see her sound asleep. This is a familiar rhythm, one that has been established over many years. 

The comfort of this pattern is soon going to be interrupted. This year, after I pick Cate up from camp, I will be helping her move into an apartment of her own, one that will be shared with a wonderful friend. As far as first apartments go, this one is pretty amazing: it is filled with light, has a view of the city and is steps from public transit. It is far enough away that Cate will be able to embrace new independence, while being close enough that we can easily see one another. I am thrilled that Cate can take this next step. And, I don’t know how to be ready for this monumental change. 

I have loved every stage of parenting Cate. Being her mother is one of my greatest joys. She has been since her arrival, a constant companion. In Cate’s early days she was almost always glued to me, either in a carrier, my arms, or somehow attached to my leg. I remember being content to let Cate’s confidence grow in her own time, and it did. It was and is a wonder to watch so many things emerge in her, including compassion and creativity. I believe this will just continue, recalling my own mother emphatically saying, “Erinn, parenting just gets better and better”. 

As much as I trust what my mom said, I find myself feeling anxious and scared about this transition. I can remember what life was like before having a child. What I don’t know is life with Cate that doesn’t include her living with me/us. It’s not that my identity is in question, or that I now doubt my value. I am many things, in addition to a mother. It’s not that I don’t want Cate to spread her wings. In fact, this is exactly what we have wanted to prepare her for. And so, what is it? It’s that I am going to miss her. A lot. 

Sometimes I look at Cate and catch my breath, reminded that I am hers and she is mine/ours. How wild that she spent nine months in me and came out with a head of auburn hair and a knowing look in her eye. I have learned so much from and with her over the last 18 years, about things like perseverance, forgiveness, routine, flexibility, loyalty, empathy, grief, adventure, fun, and love. I’ll never forget getting stranded overseas with Cate, just the two of us, after a major flight cancellation. She was the most patient person in a waiting room of exasperated adults and turned our ordeal into an escapade, one that included joining a high school prom at midnight, creating a meal out of finds at an after hours gas station, and travelling from one airport to another clear across town so that we could eventually get home (that story should be a whole entry of its own). 

I do have a lot to process. I am trying to address my anxiety and allow all the feels. I am talking to my therapist and sharing what is going on in me with Dion. Cate and I are talking about what this means for both of us, including me reading her this. I believe that Cate growing up is good and something to be celebrated. Right now, Our Love is Here to Stay is the music coming from Cate’s room. “It’s very clear, our love is here to stay. Not for a year but ever and a day. The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know. May just be passing fancies and in time may go. But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay”. In a whole lot of uncertainty, this I trust to be true: our love is here to stay. 

EDIT: The subject of this blog, the broken lift which halted Dion’s mobility, was fixed exactly four weeks after its breakdown. Thank you to everyone who offered us support from near and far during this time.

When my husband Dion went through the most significant crisis of his MS journey a few years ago, we were faced with many decisions, including: did he need to live in a long-term care facility? If not, could our home be adjusted to accommodate his needs? What ensued was a long renovation to our house, one that was made possible through the gifts of many people, and yes, the bank. Along the way, we had a number of meetings with medical teams in order to discern what Dion needed, what I needed, and what we needed as a family. 

We determined that our basement would become Dion’s main living space, an option made possible through the discovery of a through-the-floor lift, aka a residential elevator. My brother/contractor organized the many trades people needed to dig down so that the ceilings would be high, build an accessible bathroom, create a space for a hospital bed and all the necessary mobility devices, make a cozy area for all of us to hang out, and install the elevator. The transformation was remarkable and enabled Dion to move home after living elsewhere for over a year. 

One recent evening, just as Dion, Cate and I sat down to dinner, there was a loud “thump”. At the time, I was the only one who noticed it. We figured it must have been something outside and proceeded to eat. When Dion got in the elevator to get downstairs in preparation for the arrival of his Personal Support Worker, it would not go down and we realized it was the culprit of the “thump”. The lights came on as they should, but nothing. I tried calling two different after-hours repair companies, only to learn that no one at either could service our particular unit. Stumped, we decided that Dion needed to be carried down the stairs (a precarious, but necessary choice) so that he could get to bed. We presumed that by the next day we could get the elevator fixed. That was three weeks ago. 

Since that time Dion has felt trapped, his independence halted. Through the effort of a mechanic, Dion’s wheelchair was able to be moved downstairs. That chair weighs in at over 400 pounds, making it necessary to leave it in the basement. Instead, we have a rental wheelchair that now lives on our main floor. At least three strong people are needed to lift Dion up and down the stairs each day, or at least every other day. 

When Dion is in the basement, Cate and I need to make sure that he has the things he needs. We have Personal Support Workers in twice a day, but only in the morning and evening. That leaves a large gap in Dion’s day. Plus, Cate is in school and I have a job, one that helps support our family. Internally, I battle with needing to be in multiple places at once, sometimes terrified that I am failing at everything. Dion often says that MS is “our” disease. It is one that each of us (including Cate) is required to carry in different ways, some more visible than others. 

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we recall how Jesus knelt and washed the feet of his friends. Having someone else wash your feet is an intimate and vulnerable thing. These last three weeks have felt a lot like that: intimate and vulnerable. We have felt at a loss, like there is nothing we can DO to fix the issue. We do not understand elevators and are at the mercy of those who do. Dion has needed people to literally pick him up and I can’t be one of them, as I simply lack the strength. We have prayed and begged for a solution, one that as of yet has not come. Honestly, Easter is around the corner and yet right now feels terribly far away. 

I trust that at some point the part will arrive and the elevator will be fixed. Until then we are surrounded by friends and family eager to help. This is something I never want to take for granted. Community is a fundamental part of surviving hard things. My gratitude, mingled with tears, streams through the challenge. 

I have been carrying my “office” in a backpack since 2012. It began because of the decision to extinguish as much expense as possible at what was then Parkdale Neighbourhood Church. At the time we were in financial crisis, uncertain of what lay ahead. I had been tasked by the Board with re-imagining our vision and way of being in the neighbourhood. One of the first things I suggested is that we give up our rented space, purge most of our belongings, and spill into the streets. That was the beginning of The Dale.

Near the beginning of my career I developed a friendship with someone who had spent most of their teenage years and twenties living outdoors. I distinctly remember their shock that I didn’t carry basic necessities at all times: “what do you mean you don’t have what you need in your bag?!” For this person, survival required forethought. The gift of that lesson still resonates with me, and most definitely impacted The Dale’s ability to become a community without walls. Though I admittedly don’t carry everything I could, I do have the following with me at all times: a pencil case, a tiny stapler, post-it notes, paperclips, scissors, a laptop, a USB, a backup drive, two files for active paper work, stamps, envelopes, and screen cleaner. I also have three American dollars tucked away, bills that were a gift from someone when things were especially desperate. I recall making the decision to place them in our petty cash so that should things get even more desperate we would have it to exchange and use as a last hurrah. They remind me to never take for granted what it means to live on the edge AND how far we have come.

Today I set up a printer in our new-to-us office. Yes, our OFFICE. The space became available to us in the building that has housed us since the beginning of the pandemic. It might not be a long-term thing, but it is a thing right now. Even as I write this, it all feels surreal. It is a surprisingly bright, basement room that we are able to make our own. We have even been gifted WIFI access by other tenants in the building. Grace upon grace.

I often share that the decision to become a nomadic community, a choice born out of crisis, has become one of our greatest gifts. Our people, who in large part understand what it means to be transient, gave us the courage to step out in faith and have taught us so much along the way. With their help, The Dale has come to more fully inhabit the neighbourhood of Parkdale. We have partnerships with a wonderful variety of organizations. By keeping our overhead costs extremely low, we can pour our resources into our programming and directly impact our community. Over the years we have slowly yet steadily grown, not unlike a phoenix rising from the ashes. When I step back and try to take it all in, I am filled with gratitude and awe.

I don’t think I will ever stop carrying my office in a backpack. I used all of the familiar contents today at the new desk, but I didn’t leave them there- I put them back in my bag, thinking again of my friend’s counsel to stay prepared. The Dale needs to remain nimble. If anything, having an office hopefully just increases our agility. Now we have a place to stash our backpacks while we stay spilled out in the neighbourhood. As one person once said about where to find The Dale, “just look for them on the street, natch.” May that continue to be the expectation.

The Dale van, affectionately known as Morrison, is being retrieved by Joanna from our parking spot that is a quick walk away from our primary space. Morrison is a long-term dream come to life. Years ago, the idea of getting a vehicle was birthed as a way of further embracing our nomadic nature. As a church and community organization without our own walls we want to fully inhabit our neighbourhood. Being on foot has served us well, though there have been times when we simply couldn’t carry everything we needed to, especially for example, when helping a community member move into housing. 

Morrison is a white cargo van, the smallest in a line used largely by businesses. Someone once commented that The Dale had gone “postal” because it is the same type of van used by Canada Post. Another told us, with a grin, that it looks like a toaster. Whatever your thoughts on the appearance, to us it is a beautiful: the result of much hope, hard work and a lot of prayer. 

Today is a Wednesday and we are loading Morrison with sleeping bags, blankets, socks, hats, hand sanitizer, Gatorade, snack packs of peanuts, and pepperoni sticks, a collection of things purchased through a grant from the United Way. We also have stacks of sandwiches, made by people from Christ Church St. James, and “Winter Kits”, made possible by money raised by students of Rosethorn Junior Public School during their Spirit Week. Our work is clearly made possible through the support of a wonderfully varied network. 

Olivia and Kim, a member of our Outreach team, load their arms with things, as they will walk ahead to connect with people and let them know the whereabouts of the van. Joanna and I drive the van to one of our typical spots, in the parking lot of a little strip mall which includes our partner, The Salvation Army Thrift Store. Today there is no spot, and so we drive to another location, alongside an area where many of our friends hang out. It is a nice day, one that suggests Spring is not too far off, while still being brisk. 

We have conversation after conversation with people, while distributing the contents of the van. People repeatedly comment how nice it is to have access to new things, while even getting to choose the colour of Gatorade they want to drink (everyone has a strong opinion about which one is best). I am reminded of the privilege of choice, something that I all too often take for granted. More often than not, people decline what they don’t need, preferring that it go to someone who does. 

By mid afternoon we are done. We tidy up Morrison, compare notes from the day, and comment yet again, “how surreal is it that we have a van?” As we close up the back with a satisfying clunk, I give thanks: for the donor who made the vehicle possible, for everyone who contributes to keeping it full, for The Dale team (both staff and volunteers), for the community who inspires us, and for the astounding provision of our Creator. 

It is always a challenge to capture and share everything that happens at The Dale. I think though that our 2020 Annual Report tells a compelling story, one of resilience and hope in the midst of a pandemic. The Dale is a group effort. To everyone who is a part of it: our core community, staff, Board, partners, volunteers, donors, supporters- THANK YOU. The Dale is a group effort. Together we are building something special that is transformative for a lot of people, including me.

It started innocently. A few of us were chatting from a distance during one of The Dale’s meal-for-takeaway days until one comment was misconstrued. In less than a few seconds things got really hot between two people, with one of them uttering threats and name-calling. We all tried to intervene in order to de-escalate the tension, which included me endeavouring to calm one person down, while the other staff ushered one person across the street. The yelling escalated and culminated in a mooning. Things settled after this. I spent some time helping the person left behind try to process what had just happened.

It was admittedly with some surprise and trepidation that we noticed the other person making their way back to us. What happened next is the real point of me writing today. We got to witness repentance and forgiveness. The offender placed a coin in my hand, saying “please give this to our friend so they can buy a coffee. And let them know I am sorry.” I delivered the message, not confident of how it would be received. I could see a softening of the shoulders and was thrilled to hear, “I will shake hands”. Not only did they shake hands, they talked through what happened. It ended with an embrace.

Being able to identify and own what we have done to hurt someone is not often an easy task. Being able to accept an apology can also be a challenge. Also difficult is that forgiveness can be confused with pardoning or condoning behaviour. Repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation are all brave acts of vulnerability. Witnessing our two friends fight and reconcile within a very short period of time filled me with joy. I wanted to skip down the street. They reminded me of the value of cultivating forgiveness as an ongoing practice.

Note: This story is shared with permission.

Ernesto was one of the first people I met when I arrived in Parkdale. He looked me in the eye and said, “Ciao, Buongiorno, Bonjour, Buenos dios- do you know what I am saying?” He went on to introduce himself as a Maestro with a sly grin, explaining that he loved to play the piano and sing, especially opera.

Music was something that marked our entire relationship. I still have handwritten lists of songs that Ernesto asked me to learn on the piano so that I could accompany him. We regularly performed Speak Softly Love- The Love Theme from The Godfather, Ava Maria, and O Sole Mio in Monday drop-ins and almost always at our annual February Feast Open Stage. Whenever Ernesto sat at the piano himself, he would end every single song (everything from the Brady Bunch Theme to the most serious of classical pieces) with a little, happy, almost comedic flourish. Music regularly brought him to tears.

Ernesto also loved to bake and cook. He liked to describe his favourite meals and always had a deep desire to share food with others. I remember him making a special Italian dessert at a Dale Retreat. For years he actively dreamed of making linguine with clams for the entire drop-in community. When The Dale experienced financial constraints Ernesto offered to make a table of pies to help raise funds. I always knew him to be both hospitable and generous.

Ernesto was a big personality with big emotions. He could go from 0 to 60 to 0 in no time flat. This volatility was challenging, especially in the early days of our relationship. I learned it was important to not back down with Ernesto and that an injection of humour could help bring him back. I know that we grew to have real respect for one another. Whenever we parted it became custom for me to say, “Ernesto, you are a scholar and a gentlemen, and it was a pleasure to see you today” to which he would say, “it takes one to know one, and the pleasure was all mine”.

A favourite memory of Ernesto is when he insisted on taking me, Dion, Cate, and Joanna to Red Lobster. I don’t think he really had the money to do so, but it didn’t matter. We all knew it was important to honour Ernesto by accepting his gift. We sat in a large booth and chatted about all kinds of things. He even bought us flowers.

For as long as I can remember, Ernesto had a variety of health challenges. Just days ago those challenges came to an end when Ernesto passed away. Quite honestly, his death doesn’t seem real. He was a memorable person, one who guests of The Dale would always ask after, even after a single meeting. I know there are many people who will feel his absence, especially the family who survives him. I would like to extend my condolences to all who now grieve.

Ernesto, I know that Ciao means both hello and goodbye and so, “Ciao”. I will miss you, as will The Dale. I know that we share a faith that provides hope for a life beyond this one. This means that I look forward to seeing you again. You were a scholar and a gentlemen, and yes, a Maestro.

Ernesto Paparella, January 4, 1949 to January 10, 2021

As I try to process the events of this year, I find myself thinking of the turn of phrase, “gold in the shadows”. In some of the darkest of circumstances and conversations, I have caught glimpses of light. I do not want to negate the fullness of the challenges; I also do not want to dismiss the good as though it is fool’s gold. This is a strange tension.

At The Dale, we have experienced a shocking amount of provision, everything from a hand washing station to Personal Protective Equipment to fresh food to grocery cards to an Outreach Vehicle. It is amazing, beautiful and admittedly sometimes overwhelming. When faced with such outpouring, I cannot help but think of how many people do not experience such generosity. And then, as a community we get to re-distribute the abundance, and light penetrates the darkness.

Encampments, while not new, have grown exponentially over the pandemic. The residents of one encampment that we are especially connected to, have reminded me repeatedly of how “making home” can happen in the most unexpected of places. Have these friends been denied affordable housing? Yes. Have they also created a space of welcome, belonging and fierce comradery? Yes. Gold in the shadows.

Having people line up to get a meal for take-away is not our style. We much prefer sitting around a table and passing a platter of food, loving the way relationships are built when you regularly eat together. I find it startling that there are a number of people now connected to The Dale who have never been in one of our drop-ins because they have met us during the pandemic. It has been helpful to hear from these same people that they can tell something unique is happening, even in the snaking queue down the street. I nodded in agreement as one person told me they feel “seen”, sharing that I feel the same way. “I think we are learning to have one another’s backs”.

We have friends who, during the lockdown, have no access to a bathroom. There are few places to sit and warm up. There is deep loneliness. I can’t make sense of any of it. What continues to move me is the way people rally in times of trial. I have witnessed people sharing their only meal for the day. Someone sent us a box of plastic bags in the mail from way out of town because they knew we needed them to give out food. A core member of The Dale gave us a Tim Hortons card that they had received as a birthday gift, so that we could give it to someone who might need it more. Others have fund-raised, or mobilized people to gather food and supplies. Even though we can’t touch, we have taken time to stop, really look one another in the eye, and offer peace.

When our friend Jahn died, we feared not being able to have a proper goodbye. Then The Dale, along with the Health Centre planned an outdoor opportunity to honour him and share our grief. More recently there have been multiple people who have passed away. The combination of winter and the impending lockdown has made it more difficult to come up with a plan, but there is one in the works: distributing memorial cards of each person along with a candle, a rose, and a journal. While we might not be together, there is something comforting about having access to the same supplies to collectively honour our people. Some of the shadows get chased away.

There have been some very difficult days this year. For me, there was one day in particular when the tap got turned on and I could not stop crying. It was as though this tender reed was about to snap. Then a few people calmly listened, my daughter bought me a Bubble Tea, I listened to a voicemail of encouragement from someone at The Dale, and I fell to my knees in prayer. Not everything was fixed the next day. I still cried. By day three or four the tears came with less frequency until I suddenly realized that part of what I desperately needed was the space to let all the emotions out, and safe people to be with me along the way. In that moment of recognition I felt the warm glow of gold.

“Earthquakes make gold veins in an instant” is the title of an article I recently read. The earthquake that is the pandemic has wreaked havoc in such a variety of ways. Like all of us, I just want it to go away. And somehow, in the most unexpected of ways, that same earthquake has created some gold. It might be hard to spot. A good place to look though is in the shadows.