Archives for the month of: May, 2020

I am outdoors and it is quiet, except for the sound of the bell. I don’t know where it is coming from. The air is warm and the table I am seated at is dappled with sunshine. I want to write but am struggling to coherently describe what is going on in my head and heart.

Yesterday was another anniversary of my mother’s death. We ate chips and drank wine in her honour. I decided against the suggestion that we go to her gravesite. I find it difficult to go, not because I don’t want to “visit” my mom, but because it is there I most acutely feel her absence. Instead I want to look at some of her treasures that now adorn our house, drink too-strong coffee, imagine her sitting beside me, and work out all the news that I want to share.

Though life has been uniquely busy over the last number of weeks, I have also found myself with time to be alone in deep thought. Sometimes this takes me down a rabbit hole of memories: lying on the grass beside Lake Ramsay at my grandparents’ home, listening to mom chatting and occasionally bursting into laughter; sharing chocolate croissants on a table outside of the St. Lawrence Market; stringing popcorn and cranberries for the Christmas tree; carrying ten more pounds of potatoes than we ever needed to a family gathering because she was worried there wouldn’t be enough; helping to rearrange all the precious things she kept on her hospital windowsill.

I can also hear her voice. I am certain she would have all kinds of questions about what we are doing at The Dale, how Cate is managing the loss of so many things during her senior year, and what Dion is up to each day. I suspect she would caution me about doing too much, gently reminding me that Sabbath was never intended to be optional. She would take notes on her I-Pad with her one good finger, all in order to keep each item in prayer.

Death arrived just before 10:30 pm for my mom. To this day I can easily place myself in that moment. Last night I decided to wrap myself in a blanket-like poncho that was hers. Just as I am now, I tried to stop and listen to my surroundings. It was still. I looked out the window and noticed more stars than I expected. I didn’t think that sleep would come, but then I heard the same bell that is ringing today. For a moment, the space between us was blurred. I fell asleep with renewed hope that one day that space will be eliminated.

It’s 9:30 am. There are four chairs, spaced at least six feet apart in the basement room that has become our ground zero. The staff team, which includes me, Joanna, Pete, and Olivia (our fifth, Meagan is on maternity leave) takes a seat to check-in. We first each take a turn to describe how we are feeling/doing/managing before praying together.

The donations we have received are divided onto different tables: non-perishable food, fresh food, toiletry items (including sanitizer, toilet paper, and hand-sewn masks), containers, clothing, bags (plastic, Ziplock, paper). There is a spot next to the kitchen door for our own Personal Protective Equipment.

We now create bags and bags of groceries. On this day a bag includes potatoes, carrots, beets, celery, a melon, kiwis, avocados, onions, one-litre of milk, a bag of chips, and a box of Kraft Dinner. We lament that there is a box of onions that might need to go to waste, except that later in the day a new friend and volunteer, Brad, offers to salvage them by cleaning off the bad parts in order to create a batch of french onion soup that we can freeze.

Meanwhile, we begin our outdoor set-up. Orange pylons create a lengthy line through the courtyard and onto the sidewalk, all six feet apart. A sandwich board is positioned at the front of the gate, both a way to communicate what time things will begin and keep the space clear for our tables. Two tables are set up just inside the gate: the first is where a person will walk to in order to be greeted and receive food, the second is where the food is run to from just inside the building. This system keeps everyone at a safe distance.

At 11 am our friend Natasha arrives on her bike, bringing with her a delivery of homemade and individually wrapped baked goods and another bag of hand-sewn masks from Patty. Natasha and Patty would typically be in our kitchen prepping food at our Monday Drop-In. They, along with some of our other volunteers, have been supporting us by baking, sewing and gathering additional donations. We have a quick check-in outside in the sun.

At noon I receive a call that the 75 prepared meals which have been gifted to us are ready and will arrive in about ten minutes. We head out to receive the delivery and place everything in the lobby of the building. This brings us closer to 1 pm, the time we open for the community. The last rush is to bring everything up the two short staircases from our space: the groceries, a basket of masks, a box of cilantro (since we know people have a love/hate relationship with it, we figured we would ask who might like a bunch), Ziplock bags of dog food for those with a furry friend, and some extra plastic bags.

Though our start time is 1 pm it is not unusual to have a line forming much earlier. Today this is the case, which leads to a conversation about possibly opening earlier. We decide to hold off until about 12:50 pm. We each get freshly masked and gloved, before determining who goes to what post: the table to distribute food alongside a volunteer, the gate to monitor the front of the line, the sidewalk to ensure that people are lined up well, the end of the line to offer a goodbye and help carrying things around the corner to Queen Street. Wherever we are, we want everyone to feel welcomed and cared for, even if just over a brief conversation.

By 1:31 pm all of the food has been distributed.

Between 2 and 2:30 pm more friends arrive to pick up thirteen bags of groceries and meals to deliver to community members able to shelter-in-place. Sheila and Ross have been doing these deliveries for weeks and have an established routine. We help load everything into their vehicle.

It’s now 3 pm and we are doing the last bit of clean-up in the space. Door handles, tables, taps, etc. are all sprayed with a disinfectant. We don’t leave garbage, compost or recycling in the space, so it is ready to be carried out as we turn off the lights and lock up.

As happy as we are to be working in this way, there is a grief that accompanies this kind of modified Monday. We miss long conversations around a table, preparing a meal with the community in a bustling kitchen, passing the shared platter of food, making music together, and embracing one another. People can’t even see us smiling from behind our masks- though I do keep greeting people with, “can you see me smiling with my eyes?”

As we disperse for the day, we don’t get to say goodbye to one another with our typical hugs. Instead, we each stretch out an arm and say, “GO TEAM”! Together, we are responding to the COVID crisis. It might look very different than our norm, but we’re glad that it still feels like The Dale.