Archives for posts with tag: COVID-19

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

News From The Dale:

Joanna Moon becomes the Lead Community Worker at The Dale.

The Dale staff team is now five people, an all time high! As a flatter organization, we collectively generate ideas, plans and goals. At the same time, we inhabit different roles. In order to celebrate and name the role that Joanna has grown into over the years, we are pleased to announce that she is now “Lead Community Worker”.

Meagan Knight completes her maternity leave and returns to work in October.

Nearly a year ago we announced the arrival of Charlotte, Meagan and Ian’s beloved child. Now Meagan is preparing to reintegrate at The Dale, beginning on October 13th. We are so looking forward to having her back!

Olivia Dower and Grant Scott to marry on October 12.

Though the journey to the wedding has been made challenging due to COVID-19, Olivia and Grant’s day is now right around the corner. While the community cannot be there in person, we are certainly there in spirit. Please join us in showering this couple with love.

The Dale meets on a Sunday afternoon under a blue sky.

One of the most difficult things about this year is how it has impacted our ability to gather. Last Sunday a small group met under sunshine and a blue sky to sit in silence, pray, hear Scripture, pass peace, and take communion. Because we do not have a building of our own, we will continue doing this as long as the weather allows (and then we’ll come up with another plan, because pivoting is our middle name).

Meals continue to be offered for take-away every Monday and Thursday.

Anyone needing a meal is invited to receive one every Monday at 1 pm and Thursday at 10 am from the front of 201 Cowan Avenue. We have frozen meals for people with the means to reheat, and heated meals for those who do not. While the line can be long, we work hard to make it go as quickly as possible. Along the way, we prioritize connecting well with one another, developing new relationships and nurturing those we already have.

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.

One of the things my daughter Cate and her youth group practice when they meet (now on Zoom) is each sharing a thorn and a rose from their week, in other words something difficult and something good. As I left the room during their meeting last night, I began to reflect on my own thorns and roses from the last few weeks.

Thorn: Dion was hospitalized in mid-March. His PSW arrived in the morning to discover that he had a fever and could not move. She called 911. The paramedics arrived in full protective equipment because of the risk of COVID-19. Dion was admitted to hospital and Cate and I had to stay home.

Rose: The Emergency Room was nearly empty upon Dion’s arrival and he was immediately seen. He was able to be properly isolated and eventually tested negative for COVID-19. After significant rest and antibiotics for an infection, Dion has recovered.

Thorn: The Dale is a community that is accustomed to spending time together. We like to hug. We want for those who are too accustomed to being in the margins to be brought to the centre. This virus has taken away the opportunity to gather, to embrace one another, and is making already vulnerable people even more vulnerable.

Rose: The Dale is still operating. We are doing take-away meals which allows us to 1) address food security and 2) briefly connect with our community. We are making phone calls and doing door-step drop-offs of groceries and supplies. Our love for everyone needs to be expressed differently, and we’re trying to do that.

Thorn: There are not enough shelter beds for people who are homeless. There are few places to properly isolate if you have symptoms or test positive. Just check out the number of tents that are being used around the city- each tent is a reminder that there is a serious lack of housing here.

Rose: This one is hard, because not enough has changed. BUT I am heartened by the growing movement of people who are petitioning that more things be done. I also know a lot of people working very hard in shelters, on the street, and in harm reduction. It takes a village, and we have a great one.

Thorn: Cate is in her senior year of high school. Yesterday would have been closing night of her last school musical and the cast party. The loss of that experience, along with so many potential others, is sad.

Rose: Cate is scrapbooking and making art. She is baking and cooking. She’s having a hard time getting to sleep, but it’s not fear keeping her awake, it’s all the plans she is making.

Thorn: I am tired. Not, I need another nap tired. It’s more of an emotional and mental fatigue. Life at The Dale is intense. I know it carries risk. The administrative part of my role has not stopped, and if anything has ramped up. And yet, I can easily feel guilty about the things I am not doing, or the things I have to say no to. For some reason the tears that typically fall easily, have not been coming out.

Rose: My pent-up emotion came out yesterday. I cried a lot. I tried to release the unhelpful guilt. I stayed off the internet and went for a walk with Dion. I ate some of Cate’s baking. Joanna sent me a picture of a crocus that reminded me of the beauty of new life. I prayed, using this from a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:

“Lord, help me now to un-clutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity. Lord, teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it. Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me. I give you my discontent. I give you my restlessness. I give you my doubt. I give you my despair. I give you all the longings I hold inside. Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.”

Though always present, the tension between clutter and simplicity, fear and change, fatigue and creativity, lament and gratitude, has been heightened in this time of crisis. Peace to you all in your own thorns and roses.

Many members of The Dale do not have easy access to technology. Some rely on now-closed libraries to get on-line and check email. Others have phones, but no data. So, how do we as a church connect in this time of isolation, especially when live-stream services might only reach a few?

In the early weeks of this crisis a small number of us gathered outside the building we usually inhabit on Sundays. Standing the appropriate distance apart in a large circle, we sang songs, including “and now, let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us. Give thanks, with a grateful heart…”, offered prayers of gratitude and lament, looked one another in the eye as we offered peace, and closed with “This Little Light of Mine”.

The opportunity to gather in this way has now passed. Tomorrow, as a staff we will walk along Queen St West in pairs with the requisite six feet between us to pray and deliver snacks to our friends who remain on the street. We continue to check in on as many people as possible through phone calls, texts, email and social media messaging.

As a church without our own walls, we have long felt comfortable with being outdoors. This latest decision for Sunday reflects our desire to remain present, while honouring the importance of Public Health (and keeping us all healthy). None of our decisions are made lately and we are aware that each is costly, especially to those who felt vulnerable and generally isolated before the onset of COVID-19.

In Acts, the church was one of movement. Yes, there were times people met in the temple, but it was just as common to connect in a home or by the sea. “Ekklesia”, the Greek word we get “Church” from means a gathering of people. Though we cannot gather in the literal sense right now, we have not lost our connection.

As I communicated this latest news to The Dale, I felt compelled to write this: the church has never been a building. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes to tell Christians that God’s presence is not just above and around them, but within them. We are the Body of Christ on earth and the temple of the Holy Spirit, actual living and breathing sanctuaries.

So, wherever you find yourself on Sunday please know that we have not ceased being a church. 

I know I’m not alone when I say that this past week has felt like a month. Life has become very different, very quickly. At The Dale we are keenly feeling the change. Accustomed to embracing people, we are standing more than six feet away. On more than a few occasions I have caught myself instinctively reaching out to greet someone, only to have to withdraw. This does not feel right. And yet, we know it is necessary at this time.

Many are asking about how The Dale is responding to the COVID-19 crisis. As a church and community organization without walls, we rely on the buildings of others and the outdoors to run our programming. All of our partner buildings have either completely shut down or halted use. We do however have access to a kitchen that is dedicated for food prep. Yesterday four of us, all keeping physically distant, prepared bagged lunches for people. We then set up a station outdoors for people to pick up the food. From behind tables and masks we encouraged people to know we love them and are doing what we can to continue supporting them. We will do the same on Thursday when we hand out take-away breakfasts.

We also have been encouraging our community members to fill out a Community Survey so that we know what help is most necessary, and how to deliver it. We have a growing list of people we can check in with by phone. We also know people’s locations so that we can safely drop off supplies and food. Important to know is that the sense of anxiety is mounting on the street. With few options of places to go, people are getting more and more scared. We need additional shelters and housing. Some of the most vulnerable people have just been made more vulnerable.

Now, here’s some of the good news. We are also experiencing people’s generosity and care. It truly does soften the anxiety. Here are just a few of the ways The Dale is seeing light in the darkness:

A community member who until just months ago was homeless, happily received a bag of food on the sidewalk outside of her place. In turn, she had cookies for my family and a bag full of containers for The Dale to package food in.

Capital Espresso, a Parkdale cafe who regularly gives us their day-old baked goods, baked buns for us to give out. Their baker got up very early Monday morning so that we could pick them up in time for lunch that day.

Natasha, a regular volunteer at The Dale’s Monday Drop-In mobilized people to bake for us. Yesterday she arrived with individually wrapped goodies, including 500 cookies from New Moon Kitchen.

Monetary donations to The Dale have enabled us to purchase grocery cards to distribute to the community. It has been amazing to receive excited messages from people about what they were able to purchase, “I picked up meat and mushrooms and other vegetables. Thank you, thank you! I have FOOD!”

Second Harvest continues to make deliveries. Friends are leaving boxes of jars and containers on their doorsteps for us to pick up. Sanctuary, the place The Dale considers a sibling, is sharing donations with us.

Thank you to everyone who has been able to help. The Dale is committed to remaining on one of the front lines, with many precautions in place, for as long as we can. Your ongoing support is deeply appreciated. To learn more about how and what to give, visit: https://erinnoxford.wordpress.com/2020/03/19/from-one-of-the-front-lines/

For years we have been using #justanotherdayatthedale, mostly to describe the events that, outside of our context, might be difficult to relate to or sometimes even believe. We are accustomed to being a transient church and organization, one that literally does not have our own walls. As such, we regularly need to get creative about how we do things.

During this new age of COVID-19 we are fortunate to feel comfortable trying new ways of providing food and connection to our community, one that already knows too much social distance because of poverty or addiction or mental health challenges. On Sunday a small number of us gathered in a circle outside the church we usually meet in, more than arms-length apart from one another to sing, pray, and share gratitude and concerns. On Monday we screened people at the door of the drop-in space we use each week, set up a hand washing station in the foyer, and placed chairs the appropriate distance apart in the main area. Food was cooked, safely served by only three people, and consumed outdoors. Today, bagged breakfasts will be given out at the door of the Health Centre we usually meet in for breakfast and art making.

Through the week we have also been asking community members to fill out a survey, one that helps us to know what their biggest needs are right now and how to reach them. Some people want a phone call each day, so we are setting up a schedule for that. Others have provided an address or coordinates (if they are living outside) so that we can deliver food.

Though we know our plans could be subject to change at any time, all of these things mean The Dale can continue to operate. What it doesn’t do is help with a place to go throughout the day, or a bed to sleep in at night. With the closure of many drop-ins, all libraries, and community centres, and now, for instance, any Tim Hortons or McDonalds to sit in, there is nowhere to go if you don’t have a home. In a city where there was already a shortage of shelter beds, multiple Out-of-the-Colds had to shut down early. While the city is beginning to respond with things like an isolation site for up to 50 people and an additional 200-250 beds, it is truly not enough. The strain this puts on people is very real. Many of our friends at The Dale are clearly anxious and scared, while some are downright angry.

Organizations across the country require extra support right now, and that includes The Dale. We are very grateful to those who have already given money, made sandwiches, offered to help deliver food, are committed to praying, etc. It is amazing to be a part of such a collective effort. If you are wondering how to participate, here is a list of our needs:

  • brown paper bags for to-go meals
  • new food containers
  • grocery gift cards
  • Tim Hortons and McDonalds gift cards
  • pre-packaged snacks, e.g. granola bars
  • new socks
  • bottled water
  • hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes
  • a lot of good thoughts and prayer
  • money

A donation right now enables us to purchase any needed items ourselves. To give online go to: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/the-dale-ministries/

In closing, this is a prayer I read just this morning and found encouragement in: “Lord, guide us to act, live, and pray as the times determine. Make our faith grow to accommodate the needs of your people and the fulfillment of your kingdom”. May each of us experience a renewing of hope and peace on this day. Amen.