Archives for the month of: March, 2021

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.