Archives for posts with tag: The Dale

There was a time when my love language was most heavily weighted toward gifts. Not extravagant things wrapped with a big bow, but a bouquet of wildflowers picked along a walk, or a note. Over the years, I have explored the beauty of each language, learning to express love and care in a variety of ways (to varying degrees of success). Recently I have been reminded by members of The Dale community of how special it can be to receive a gift given with heart. 

Olivia and I were walking along Queen Street West one Wednesday afternoon. The plan was to meet up with Joanna and Meagan who had picked up the van and were already getting things set-up for our outreach time. We ran into “Danny”, who always greets us with a little dance and a quiet smile. On this day he emphatically said, “I want to buy you both coffee”. He was not to be deterred by the long line of people waiting outside Tim Hortons, “I WANT to buy you a coffee because today I can and because we take care of each other”. Even the person behind the register seemed moved at Danny asking us each what we wanted, paying with change, and buying nothing for himself. He patted me on the arm, said a brief goodbye, and was gone as quickly as he had first appeared. 

She is someone we are very slowly getting to know. We mostly see her at our meals-to-go on Mondays and Thursdays. Last Thursday we weren’t sure who we would see given the heavy rain, but there she was. She walked right up to me and without a word handed me a bag of Jalebi, a South East Asian/Middle Eastern sweet that is served at festivals, weddings and family gatherings. Jalebi is a pile of bright orange sugary “squiggles”. I felt so grateful that she would make and gift us a treat that is so important to her. 

I have known “Jenna” for more than twenty years. Throughout our friendship she has taught me so much about gratitude, humility, and honesty. Though she would meekly disagree, there is a river of wisdom running through her. What many would consider mundane things, she counts as blessings. One day she carefully placed a gift wrapped in a piece of Kleenex in the palm of my hand. “I made this bracelet for you. I found these beads- do you see how they shine? Smile when you see them sparkle in the sun”. 

One of the lessons I have learned at The Dale is that it is as important for me to be comfortable in the position of receiver, as it is to be of giver. Sometimes this can be difficult: I might have worried that Danny didn’t really have the money to spare, or that I was depriving someone else of Jalebi or a beaded bracelet. But refusing would have robbed my friends of the opportunity to give, and I would have missed out on something beautiful.  In these three instances I was given very tangible items through which I experienced the attention and empathy of each gift-giver. To me these gifts are invaluable, as are the people who gave them. I am so grateful to be in a community where there is opportunity to experience the dynamic exchange that is both giving and receiving.

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!

Sometimes words fail me. This week has been significant, and I want to tell you about it, but I am all verklempt (overcome with emotion). 

We were walking along “the block” as it gets referred to in Parkdale on outreach. There are a few key spots on the strip, including outside the library, beside the Pizza Pizza, in the bus shelter, and in front of the liquor store. As we crossed at Dunn and Queen, we spotted a long-time friend, one whose health we have been concerned about and felt relieved to see. He and I have known one another since 2007. Initially we would primarily connect outdoors, then we would sit together at The Dale’s Monday Drop-In and share a meal. Our friendship formed quickly and has deepened with time and through many shared experiences. We have seen one another through a lot, navigated grief, and sung “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” together more times than I can count. 

On this day he had an urgent request: find his family, people he had not seen in close to a decade and worried he had pushed away. I immediately said yes, explaining that I could not promise I would be successful, but that I would do my best. Armed with a few names I began to investigate, a process that led me to a Native Friendship Centre in the area my friend is from. I sent messages in every form I could, praying that it might help. Within hours I had a stream of messages from various family members, all eager for a reunion. I nearly ran to find him, communicate how loved he is and help facilitate the re-connection. Today he was picked up by his nephew to visit home. 

A second story: He and I first met along the block too. I remember it clearly: we were introduced by the big globe beside the library. Since then we have journeyed together through a lot. Along the way he took to heart The Dale’s invitation to full participation and became pivotal to our breakfast program at the Health Centre, and more recently at all of our meals-to-go. He, just like my other friend, loves to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, referring to it as number 41 (the spot it lives in The Dale’s Songbook). It is no small thing that on Tuesday we got to help him move into an apartment of his own, a long-time dream that is finally a reality, his quiet excitement both palpable and contagious.

Things don’t always work out like this. Sometimes reunions aren’t possible. The road to housing can be impossibly long. But this week miracles happened. This week the troubled waters were stilled. 

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!

It was just over a decade ago that I met Shannon “Chevy” Timmerman. Before I knew her name, I came to remember her amazing hair: auburn and curly and long. At the time she was painting with great frequency and would show up to ask for supplies like canvas and acrylic paint. It didn’t take long for our relationship to blossom. I don’t know when it started, but she came to adopt me, Dion and Cate as family, even referring to me as “mom” (though in reality our age difference made us more like siblings). 

Chevy lived with many challenges, some she would admit, of her own making. Over the years she willingly shared about her time living outside and all that went along with that. At one point she gave me a stack of hand-written pages containing her story. She hoped that in the future she might be able to teach others through her experience, a journey that included finding and losing and finding housing, addiction, Jesus, family, and friends.

Chevy found community at The Dale. She became a regular at most of our programming, almost always accompanied by one of her many pets. For a long time, that meant a cat, or two or three, all in a hand-constructed carrier/bundle buggy. The animal we came to know best though was Jacob, a little meek dog who only had eyes for Chevy. I have never known a dog to love its person like Jacob. 

I loved when Chevy began to attend The Dale’s Sunday service. She would often arrive while I was practicing songs at the piano, offer a hug, and disappear to the kitchen to make us both a cup of tea.  She had a particular spot she liked to sit near the front, with Jacob beside her. During our community prayer time Chevy would regularly share shockingly transparent prayers, ones that acknowledged her gratitude, struggle and longing for healing. She was hungry for communion and liked to offer the wine or juice to people with a “Jesus’ blood shed for you, get it in ya”. 

Chevy and I have shared a lot over the years. Just last week she was reminiscing about the Big Macs I would treat her to after successfully getting to important appointments. We have sat in countless waiting rooms together, visited the Art Gallery of Ontario, gone on walks, and shared meals in drop-ins. When my daughter Cate and I went on a trip to Italy, Chevy was insistent that I give her a picture of our experience, one that she framed and put on her living room wall. I have held her hand while she lay in the Intensive Care Unit, and she held mine when my mother died. 

Chevy could also drive me crazy. She liked to say, “I’m a loveable thorn in your side” and she was right. When she got a cell phone, I would sometimes get called more than twenty times a day. When she figured out voice-to-text, I would get streams of messages, often asking me for ice cream, Doritos, or Skittles (her favourite) and a long hug. Sometimes our interactions were challenging because she would ask me to do something that I simply could not. I do know that the depth of our relationship was possible, in part, to a strong commitment to boundaries. For that I am grateful. 

Just this morning we learned of Chevy’s death late last night. Right now, I am feeling a heavy sense of shock and deep sadness. I know the sadness is similarly felt by Joanna, Meagan and Olivia, along with the rest of the community. Chevy was one of many people I know who seemed to have more than nine lives, something that made it easy to feel like this day would never come. I want to extend my deepest sympathies to her family, those who knew her as Shannon. Shannon spoke often of wanting to get out to you in BC for another visit. I am so sorry for your loss.

Chev. Oh Chevy. I wish I could have been there to hold your hand. I trust you knew how much I loved you. You never let me forget that you loved me. Thank you. I wholeheartedly believe that you are being welcomed into the warm embrace of the Creator you always cried out to. This isn’t goodbye. 

Shannon Lee Timmerman June 21 1967 – May 5 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. 

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.

It started innocently. A few of us were chatting from a distance during one of The Dale’s meal-for-takeaway days until one comment was misconstrued. In less than a few seconds things got really hot between two people, with one of them uttering threats and name-calling. We all tried to intervene in order to de-escalate the tension, which included me endeavouring to calm one person down, while the other staff ushered one person across the street. The yelling escalated and culminated in a mooning. Things settled after this. I spent some time helping the person left behind try to process what had just happened.

It was admittedly with some surprise and trepidation that we noticed the other person making their way back to us. What happened next is the real point of me writing today. We got to witness repentance and forgiveness. The offender placed a coin in my hand, saying “please give this to our friend so they can buy a coffee. And let them know I am sorry.” I delivered the message, not confident of how it would be received. I could see a softening of the shoulders and was thrilled to hear, “I will shake hands”. Not only did they shake hands, they talked through what happened. It ended with an embrace.

Being able to identify and own what we have done to hurt someone is not often an easy task. Being able to accept an apology can also be a challenge. Also difficult is that forgiveness can be confused with pardoning or condoning behaviour. Repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation are all brave acts of vulnerability. Witnessing our two friends fight and reconcile within a very short period of time filled me with joy. I wanted to skip down the street. They reminded me of the value of cultivating forgiveness as an ongoing practice.

Note: This story is shared with permission.

Ernesto was one of the first people I met when I arrived in Parkdale. He looked me in the eye and said, “Ciao, Buongiorno, Bonjour, Buenos dios- do you know what I am saying?” He went on to introduce himself as a Maestro with a sly grin, explaining that he loved to play the piano and sing, especially opera.

Music was something that marked our entire relationship. I still have handwritten lists of songs that Ernesto asked me to learn on the piano so that I could accompany him. We regularly performed Speak Softly Love- The Love Theme from The Godfather, Ava Maria, and O Sole Mio in Monday drop-ins and almost always at our annual February Feast Open Stage. Whenever Ernesto sat at the piano himself, he would end every single song (everything from the Brady Bunch Theme to the most serious of classical pieces) with a little, happy, almost comedic flourish. Music regularly brought him to tears.

Ernesto also loved to bake and cook. He liked to describe his favourite meals and always had a deep desire to share food with others. I remember him making a special Italian dessert at a Dale Retreat. For years he actively dreamed of making linguine with clams for the entire drop-in community. When The Dale experienced financial constraints Ernesto offered to make a table of pies to help raise funds. I always knew him to be both hospitable and generous.

Ernesto was a big personality with big emotions. He could go from 0 to 60 to 0 in no time flat. This volatility was challenging, especially in the early days of our relationship. I learned it was important to not back down with Ernesto and that an injection of humour could help bring him back. I know that we grew to have real respect for one another. Whenever we parted it became custom for me to say, “Ernesto, you are a scholar and a gentlemen, and it was a pleasure to see you today” to which he would say, “it takes one to know one, and the pleasure was all mine”.

A favourite memory of Ernesto is when he insisted on taking me, Dion, Cate, and Joanna to Red Lobster. I don’t think he really had the money to do so, but it didn’t matter. We all knew it was important to honour Ernesto by accepting his gift. We sat in a large booth and chatted about all kinds of things. He even bought us flowers.

For as long as I can remember, Ernesto had a variety of health challenges. Just days ago those challenges came to an end when Ernesto passed away. Quite honestly, his death doesn’t seem real. He was a memorable person, one who guests of The Dale would always ask after, even after a single meeting. I know there are many people who will feel his absence, especially the family who survives him. I would like to extend my condolences to all who now grieve.

Ernesto, I know that Ciao means both hello and goodbye and so, “Ciao”. I will miss you, as will The Dale. I know that we share a faith that provides hope for a life beyond this one. This means that I look forward to seeing you again. You were a scholar and a gentlemen, and yes, a Maestro.

Ernesto Paparella, January 4, 1949 to January 10, 2021