Archives for posts with tag: A Community Without Walls

Whenever we plan an event at The Dale, there is admittedly a little nervous energy that accompanies it. That is how I felt as we launched our week-long on-line Community Registry, an opportunity to purchase much needed items for our people. Part of the anxiety was feeling a little out of practice- we didn’t do a fundraiser last year, a choice that felt right given the pandemic and the outpouring of support we were receiving. Another part was that doing anything like this requires that you put yourself and the place that you love out there, which can feel…vulnerable.

Fundraising is not easy, and yet it is also something I cannot imagine giving up. It teaches (sometimes forces) me to step out in faith, to rely on God and others, and to use every bit well. When The Dale was crawling out of crisis years ago, I would fervently pray, “give us this day our daily bread”. Each day was an act of trust that there would be enough. Enough never meant a bag of riches, it was having the $2 to buy some milk for the drop-in coffee, or the exact amount needed to pay a bill, or a surprise donation of food that could be transformed into a meal for over one hundred people. This past week reminded me of how grateful I am for all the people who have given, sometimes out of their own relative little, to make sure The Dale has enough.

For me, the Community Registry was an opportunity to show this same kind of care to others. We loved the idea of creating an event with multiple benefactors: a donation to The Dale = a purchase from a restaurant = a meal for a community member. Having been an organization acquainted with living on the edge, we recognized the challenge faced by so many local businesses because of Covid. Also, we wanted to share about the needs of our community, as identified by them and not assumption.

Now that the event is closed and the final bits of administration are underway, my initial apprehension has subsided and been replaced with deep gratitude. I am thankful for every person who shared about the Registry, who covered it and The Dale with prayer and good thoughts, and who made a purchase. I was regularly shocked at the reach this all had, oftentimes seeing social media posts made by people many degrees of separation away. As a team we can’t wait to place large orders with our restaurant partners, gather the purchased items, and distribute everything to our friends.

Just yesterday I was chatting with a community member who desperately needs a mattress. It was amazing to be able to say, “when can we deliver one?”. With a grin, he said, “I was just telling someone about you girls. I said, they are small, but somehow things come together and happen.” To which I laughed, explaining the group effort (which includes him) that is The Dale. Every supporter is a part of the beautiful tapestry of people that helps make things happen. You are each a gift.

Postscript: for those wondering, the Community Registry raised $11,105. Taking into account donations made to the Registry, but not on-line, we are up to $12,265!

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!

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.

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.

Today is an exciting day. Today we picked up our new outreach vehicle, a purchase made possible through the generosity of an anonymous donor. Today we further embrace that we are a community without our own building. We might not have walls, but we have wheels!

The Dale builds and supports relationships with people, many of whom are accustomed to being marginalized due to poverty, and all of its resulting challenges. During the COVID-19 pandemic we are taking action to ensure that people with these vulnerabilities receive tangible care in the form of food, supplies (including PPE, sleeping bags, blankets, etc.) and emotional care (phone calls, physically distant visits, etc.) 

COVID-19 has exposed how great the social divide is in this city and throughout our world. People who are under-housed have lost regular access to basic necessities. As an organization without our own building, The Dale has to creatively respond to our community’s needs, especially as we face the second wave of the virus, and winter. Of the five partner buildings that The Dale uses for its programming, only one has remained open through the pandemic. As a result, The Dale has identified the need to focus on outdoor outreach, including creating “drop-in” spaces around the neighbourhood by setting up chairs and outdoor heaters. By doing this we will be able to nurture relationships, discern people’s ongoing needs, and distribute food and supplies.

In keeping with The Dale’s philosophy, the emphasis will be on service provision that is rooted in relationship. We believe that this van offers:

Increased flexibility in terms of where to run a drop-in.

Increased capacity to assist community members with moving into housing. 

Increased capacity for pick-up and delivery of food and other resources. 

Increased visibility for The Dale around the neighbourhood. 

While this decision has been prompted by COVID-19, we know a vehicle will offer long-term benefit to The Dale (in fact, it has been a long-time dream). We have prioritized outdoor outreach since 2012, during which we have built a high level of trust with the community. Our commitment to being present on the street-level has been deeply held for years and will continue with or without a pandemic. 

We are grateful to our donor, Nigel at Formula Ford Lincoln Sales, and Pierre at AON Insurance (thank you all for answering my limitless questions) for bringing this project to life. Now to work, but first we celebrate!

Since March The Dale has been serving meals to-go, all outside. We set up outside of 201 Cowan Avenue. Every six feet along the sidewalk is a strip of bright yellow tape, a visual reminder that a line is now necessary. Sometimes the number of people snakes all the way to Queen Street, around the corner and down the block.

We miss not being able to share a meal around a table. The Dale is motivated to build and nurture participatory community, and we lament how the pandemic has impacted this. Having said that, there are no shortage of important and oftentimes beautiful moments that happen as we interact in line and around the neighbourhood on the street.

We can always hear this person coming, because their wheelchair has a loose shock and a missing wheel. Though in obvious need, it took some time for this person to feel safe to ask for or receive help. It was a long series of fairly short interactions that led to a significant conversation, one that has led to putting a plan in action for repairs to be completed on their mobility device.

Laid out on the sidewalk, we stopped to make sure this person was breathing. Fortunately, we were able to have a bit of a conversation and provide some water. It was clear that the day had been a very difficult one so far. At one point he reached out to grab a hand, so hungry for a brief, healthy touch. In that moment of connection, he spoke words of encouragement to each of us. We left feeling like everyone involved had just received a gift.

Some people in the line are very new to The Dale and have no context for how life in this community looked pre-COVID. It is fun to tell stories of drop-ins and open mic nights, of cooking together and playing board games, of making music and sharing prayer requests. It is encouraging to hear the new folks telling their own stories of The Dale: of how good a certain meal was, of making new friends, of eating freezies together in the heat of the summer, of discovering that we meet for church in a parking lot, and of how the bad weather doesn’t stop us from being “open”.

One day a person brought us two bags full of plastic bags, having noticed that we need them to hold all the things we are giving away. Someone else painted us a picture. Another gifted me a used tripod for my daughter, knowing that she is studying photography. These presents remind us that everyone is built to both give and receive, a value that cannot even be quashed by our current circumstances.

The poet John O’Donahue says that, “A life that wishes to honour its own possibility has to learn too how to integrate the suffering of dark and bleak times into a dignity of presence. Letting go of old forms of life, a tree practises hospitality towards new forms. It balances perennial energies of winter and spring within its own living bark. The tree can reach towards the light, endure wind, rain and storm, precisely because it is rooted.”

The Dale wants to be such a tree. Our roots are deep. We know who we are. We believe in what we do. We will be in the neighbourhood rain, snow, or shine. While the line is not our preference, we will seek to make it as Dale-ish as possible. There is grief, yes AND God is making a way through the sadness. For all of this we are grateful.

It is hard to believe that we are nearing the end of another year. As I reflect on all that has transpired during 2020, I am filled with a variety of emotions, ranging from sadness to joy, anxiety to peace, and everything in between. Overwhelmingly though, I feel a sense of gratitude. As a community we have remained intact despite the distance. We have leaned in to the opportunity to creatively address the limitations of COVID-19. There have been tears shed and laughs shared, our refrain often being, “we’re making it work!” or “we’re doing it!”

One constant has been change. We have needed to pivot more than once. Our set-up for giving out meals has been tweaked and then tweaked some more. Meagan has returned from her mat leave. Olivia got married. And most recently, Pete completed his contract with The Dale- we are grateful for and wish the best of things for Pete and his family during this time of transition.

As much as I love finding the words to describe the journey The Dale has and continues to be on, I think pictures can really help bring it to life. This is a vibrant place, one that is nurtured through the support of a very broad network of people. These pictures might be familiar to you, or maybe this is a first glimpse into the neighbourhood. Either way, I invite you to take a look.

Monday Lunch
Prepping meals and groceries for the community
Sunday
Ross and Sheila (not pictured) getting ready to help with deliveries
A community member’s first garden since being recently housed
Friends
Thursday Breakfast
The Dale Devotional- The Beatitudes
Jahn’s Memorial
Let’s do it
Rose
Where many friends are currently living
Pete, Meagan, Erinn, Joanna, Olivia

I had to drive somewhere today. I turned on the radio, just in time to hear a favourite Vinyl Cafe story about the fictional character, Morley. In it, Morley is described as a lover of fall. But, says the narrator, fall can be a “perilous partner”- for if winter is the warm hearth, summer sweet sorrow, spring the eternal optimist, then autumn is the season of wistfulness. It holds on until winter’s arrival, producing a kind of melancholy in the process.

This description of the autumn resonates with me at the moment. I think all weekend I have been feeling a keen sense of nostalgia, one that makes me both smile and weep.

Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday. He has been gone since 2008, but October 12th will always be the day he burst into the world. On this past weekend in 2008 my Mom came to our house for the first time in four and a half years, years spent exclusively in the hospital. She couldn’t eat any food through her mouth anymore, so instead we had what affectionately came to be called an “aroma buffet”. I still expect her to roll up the ramp to our back door, even though she too is gone.

The Dale did not get to go on our annual fall retreat this year. However, we did gather on Sunday for a church service. We met outdoors. It called me back to the days when we first became a church without walls (literally). As I looked around at the community, I was struck by how far we’ve come; how may seasons we have weathered together. Sitting in that parking lot, some of us wrapped in hand knit blankets, a vase-full of sunflowers on the altar, surrounded by the sound of the wind, I pictured a Phoenix rising out of the ashes, an image that I have returned to frequently to describe the journey of The Dale.

I got lost in a box of photos recently. Pictures of big family gatherings for turkey and potatoes, me and my cousins playing, little Cate, family from Newfoundland out for a walk to admire the fall colours. I was reminded of an October weekend spent in Killarney when I must have been 8 or 9. We decided to hike the Chikanishing Trail on a very wet day, except I had no boots. To the rescue: some plastic bags and rubber bands. So many memories of this time of year.

I have much to be grateful for in my past, I also have much to be grateful for right now. My uncle gave me a call over the weekend; we got to see my brother, sister-in-law, nephews and niece; Cate is settling in to university; Dion is doing well; The Dale community is still a phoenix; I have family who are friends and friends who are like family; I get to live and work in a city I love; I am known and loved by the Creator.

Once the story on the radio came to an end, I spent the remainder of my drive lost in remembrances and filled with gratitude. Like autumn, I am holding on. The colours are vibrant and the air is crisp. It’s a perfect time to wear a sweater. And, while the winter may be coming, I keep reminding myself that there is always the promise of spring.