Archives for posts with tag: Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto

Back before I was a mother (my daughter is now 17) I worked at Sanctuary, a place that I often refer to as a sibling of The Dale. Sanctuary was formative for me, its fingerprints all over my life in ministry. It was the place that had me committing to community where people who are typically marginalized are instead placed at the core.

Over this Easter weekend Sanctuary had three of its people die, two of whom I knew. This on the heel of multiple other deaths. Over at The Dale we held five memorials from December until just mid-January, almost all of which were on Wednesdays at 1 pm. Near the end of that stretch I almost couldn’t bear the thought of leading another service. Our friends working in Harm Reduction see an astonishing loss of life all the time. Oh death, where is your sting? Well, one of the places is the street.

The sorrow is heavy. The scary thing is that there is very little room for the processing of grief. There is no space for a breath between bereavements. On top of it all is what I would call anticipatory grief, the kind that exists when we come to expect and brace for the next tragedy. I worry for our communities (and myself) in this. In fact, it’s something I think about a lot.

My most recent work in therapy has been largely related to the death of my mother. Without even realizing it, I was living in quiet protest of her being gone. Her absence felt so unreal that I was allowing myself to be numbed by it. Slowly I have been emerging from that, a process that is enabling me to sit in the sadness AND celebrate what an amazing mom I had. Elaine will never not be my mother. This is true too of my dad. Similarly, the friends that I have lost over the years will never stop being important pieces of my life.

Talking about death can be very uncomfortable. It often brings up the reality of our own mortality. It is confusing and, until it happens to us, impossible to understand. My mother taught me a lot about clinging to hope in both life and death. It wasn’t that she lived without any fear of death, it was that she never let it control her. Instead, she readied herself to be free.

I believe that our friends are now free. Do I wish there were still here? Yes. Can I wait for the day that death is put to death? I will, but it can hurry up already. Somehow, I am not devoid of hope, in fact I remain resolute in my belief that light will overcome the darkness. And, I stand in solidarity with Sanctuary and other front-line communities in collective grief and lament.

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.

Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
And I say to my heart: rave on.

-Mary Oliver

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/