Being “Dale-ish” during a pandemic

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It has become increasingly clear, over the past few months, that building community in a pandemic is… hard! We, as a staff team, are SO thankful that we’ve been able to continue working together in Parkdale, seeing our folks and meeting practical needs. AND, it’s really difficult that we haven’t been able to sit down and eat together as a community, welcome people into full participation through volunteering of time and talents, have long discussions or times of prayer and worship, and the other things that make The Dale feel “Dale-ish”.

That being said, we have found many creative ways to remain connected to the community as best we can; we do lots of street outreach, we have a list of people with whom we regularly speak on the phone, we published a devotional and distributed it to people in the community who liked the idea of reading/praying/reflecting through the same material at the same time (though separately), and we found a way to safely hold an outdoor memorial for our friend Jahn. I am so grateful for all these ways we have found to be “Dale-ish”.

However, over these past few months we have seen a significant number of new faces in the lines up for to-go meals, and have realized that many of these folks have no context for The Dale beyond these line-ups. I recently had the chance to explain who we “really are” to a newcomer, and she was surprised and delighted that we usually sit down and eat together, and that she would have been welcome to volunteer if she wanted to (and that she will be in the future, once COVID dies down!)

This all motivated us to put together a little “Intro to the Dale” handout, to go along with our August/September calendar. I’ve included it below.

As we have entered Stage Three and can have larger outdoor gatherings, we hope to have more and more “Dale-ish” times together 🙂

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If you’re new to The Dale:

Welcome! We’re so glad that you have found us! We want to properly introduce ourselves, and explain a bit about The Dale’s core values, which include:

Creating awareness 

Breaking down barriers 

Fostering friendships 

Practicing presence 

Nurturing faith

The Dale is a nomadic community organization and church. We do not own a building of our own, but borrow spaces around the neighbourhood. We welcome all people and make intentional space for those who might more often be found in the margins.

During non-COVID times our schedule looks like this: 

On Mondays we are at Bonar Parkdale Presbyterian Church (250 Dunn Ave) for a sit-down lunch. We encourage community participation in all aspects of the day, from meal prep, to delivering platters of food to each table, to dishwashing, to playing music. 

On Thursday mornings we are at the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center (1229 Queen St. West) for a sit-down brunch and self-directed art drop-in where people can participate in meal prep, clean up, art and music-making.

On Tuesday afternoons we are in the back corner of the Salvation Army Thrift Store (1447 Queen St. West) for a conversational drop-in with snacks and board games, on Tuesday evenings at St. Francis Table (1322 Queen St. West) for a Bible Study, and Sunday afternoons at Epiphany and St. Marks (201 Cowan Ave) for a church service. 

Of course, things have looked very different for the past few months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For everyone’s health and safety, we have not been able to have many community volunteers, sit and eat together, or hold our usual programming. This has been really sad and hard, but we are also very grateful that we have been able to see each other face to face around the neighbourhood and on Mondays and Thursdays when meals are distributed.

We dearly hope that it will soon be safe to start operating in a way that better fits our values, but we know this may be a slow transition. 

We hope that this introduction to The Dale has been helpful, and that you will continue to be involved with The Dale even after COVID is over! If you want more information about this community, you can visit our website, thedale.org, or approach any of us with your questions!!

Peace be yours,

Erinn (Pastor and Director), Joanna (Community Worker), Pete (Community Worker), and Olivia (Community Worker)

 

 

 

 

(un)learning together

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One of the (many) things that I love about the Dale community is that we are a pretty diverse bunch, in a whole variety of ways: in terms of our socioeconomic situations, our stances on theology, our expressions of gender and sexuality, the colours of our skin, our ages/stages of life, our degrees of ability/disability, etc.

As Erinn wrote in The Dale’s statement on anti-racism (which you can read in italics below), we are committed to learning from each other, and lamenting alongside those who are vulnerable because of where they land along the spectra I just listed. We are SO far from perfect, but we will keep on trying.

In the spirit of learning and lamenting in community, I’d like to share a video that was recently sent to me from a Dale community member. “Josh” is impish, clever, Indigenous, and usually sends me cat videos. So when he sent me a link, I was expecting feline antics or perhaps a dancing cockatoo. Instead, it was a ten minute summary of systemic racism in Canada, sharing the voices of Black and Indigenous professors and lawyers. It’s worth your time. Thank you Josh, for sharing this resource. Let’s keep (un)learning together.

 

 

 

With humility and deep conviction, The Dale strives to stand against the oppression of people. As a church and community organization we do this by:

Inviting all people into full participation of our community and in so doing, elevating voices that are otherwise marginalized.

Working to create spaces that are as safe as possible by intervening when they are not, challenging and stopping harmful behaviour, and committing to a reconciliatory process.

Building relationships with people and understanding one another’s histories, experiences, and hopes.

Affirming that every person is built to both give and receive.

We are committed to listening to, learning from, and lamenting with people who are made vulnerable due to race, class, age, economics, gender, sexuality, and disability, etc.

The Dale seeks to be anti-racist. We have and will continue to make mistakes, and are sorry for the times we have failed to take actionable steps against racism. We believe that Black Lives are TRULY Beloved.

the offering hat

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One of the things that I miss the most about “regular” life at the Dale (ie. pre-COVID), is the part of our Sunday service just before we pass around the offering hat. Erinn (or whichever of us is leading the service that day) always makes sure to explain that we all have good gifts to give, and that these gifts look very different from each other.

You might have a financial gift to put in the hat, a note of encouragement, or something else tangible (sometimes we get a pack of pencil crayons, a coupon, or a cigarette). Or maybe your gift is something else, like doing dishes at drop-in, or praying for the community, or giving good hugs (remember hugs??!!). If your gift is something like that, you are welcomed to hold the hat and offer your intention to God in prayer.

These days, of course, things look different. We aren’t able to meet for our Sunday services, and we don’t get to pass around our offering hat. Folks who would normally volunteer in the kitchen, play music during drop-ins or church, give hugs, etc, are unable to do so. However, the community continues to find ways to offer their gifts, in lots of different ways.

A couple of weeks ago someone came up to Erinn and said, “I don’t have money, but I want you to have this…”, handing her a $40 Tim Horton’s gift card that this friend had been given for their 74th birthday.

Today Pete went to drop off a bagged lunch to a beloved community member, and was given a bag containing homemade banana bread for the staff team to share.

Also today, one community member donated a bag of books, and another donated a few pieces of art.

So, although we can’t pass around our offering hat, the giftedness and generosity of this Dale community continues to shine.

 

In praise of shelter and housing workers

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If you’ve had your ear to the ground lately, surrounding issues of homelessness and housing in Toronto amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, you will likely have come across some strong opinions about the City’s response to these overlapping crises.

I’ve added my voice to the mix on social media, encouraging others to contact the mayor and city councillors to advocate for swift and appropriate action, especially when it seemed that encampments were going to be cleared before people living in them had received housing. I am also in support of the injunction being levied against the City, demanding that shelter standards be modified to adhere to necessary physical distancing guidelines, among other things.

I believe that when residents voice their concerns about social issues, it can make a difference. If enough public pressure is placed on people with decision-making power, things happen. So thank you to everyone who has been insisting that people who are homeless need to be safely housed, especially now.

The one thing that I lament about this type of advocacy (again, in which I firmly believe), is when shelter and housing workers get caught in the crossfire. I know and love many people who work tirelessly at city-funded shelters, as city-funded housing workers, and as city staff in the shelter and housing departments. These folks are amazing. They are doing the very best they can, with the resources that have been made available to them.

So let me be clear: when I refer to “the City” needing to do this or needing to do that, I am referring to the decision-makers who determine where resources will be allocated. I am not referring to the incredibly hard working folks at shelters, Streets to Homes, and the other agencies that are seeking to provide shelter to my friends. This is an important distinction, and one that I will be making more explicit in my future calls to advocacy.

So, thank you shelter and housing workers. I see you, and I appreciate the work that you are doing. We’re all in this together.

 

COVID gratitude journal

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These are wild times. There’s no question about it. I know many of us are starting to fray at the edges, wondering how long this pandemic will last.

AND, it is also true that these are times of wild generosity. I’ve named many of The Dale’s amazing donors through social media, but I’d like to dedicate this blog post to the (ever-growing) group of individuals, groups and businesses that have given of their time and resources to help The Dale community through these strange and challenging times.

Epiphany and St. Mark’s Anglican Church and Greenest City have graciously allowed us the use of space in which to prepare meals and receive donations. Greenest City has also connected many of our folks with weekly Good Food Boxes (containing fresh produce.)

Capital Espresso has provided us with fresh bread, baked goods and coffee beans.

Nook Cafe, in partnership with Runnymede Presbyterian has prepared and delivered delicious lunches for our Monday meals.

New Moon Bakery has baked, individually wrapped, and donated five HUNDRED (!) organic cookies.

Cherry Bomb Coffee has donated croissants and a lot of milk and cream.

Natasha, a dear friend and regular volunteer at The Dale, picked up and delivered the New Moon and Cherry Bomb donations, and has organized a group of baking friends who provide us with a steady stream of goodies.

Patty,  another dear friend and volunteer, has sewn us a huge number of face masks, which we have been able to distribute to people in the community.

Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian has shared and delivered loads of buns and baguettes.

Second Harvest has continued to provide us with lots of amazing produce and pantry items, which we are able to distribute on Mondays along with lunch.

Ken, Christina, and James have all helped us divide the Second Harvest bounty into grocery bags, and James has also joined us on outreach and jumped into the kitchen to do food prep when we were short-staffed.

Brad, a dad whose child (in non-COVID times) attends the Scouts program at Epiphany and St. Mark’s, has been helping us distribute lunches on Mondays.

Ross and Sheila, friends from the Meeting House, have been delivering groceries and lunches to folks who have a hard time getting to us on Mondays. Sheila is also creating and selling COVID Commemorative earrings (tiny little toilet paper rolls on silver hoops!), and giving 100% of the proceeds to The Dale. If you’re interested, shoot me a message and I’ll connect you!

Cody, another Meeting House friend, has posted a list of needed items and a drop-off box in his neighbourhood, and has delivered bags and bags of donations every week to The Dale.

Gab and Roshan, more Meeting House friends who co-lead a House Church, have galvanized their group to provide support to The Dale in a variety of ways, including having us share our story during their weekly Zoom meeting 🙂

Melanie, a childhood friend of Erinn’s, has delivered a pickup-truck-load of produce from farms in the Holland Marsh area, along with a bunch of homemade hand sanitizer. Her daughters and their therapy-cat-in-training came along to help out too!

And an anonymous donor dropped off boxes and boxes of t-shirts, underwear, hats and bandanas; excess merchandise from his friend’s local screen printing business.

On top of this amazing list, many people have given financially — we are working on getting personal thank yous out to you too!

We are GRATEFUL.

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Generosity Amidst Scarcity

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It seems a paradox that people who live with very little are often the most generous. Before the COVID-driven scarcity mindset that seems to have beset the world was a thing, many folks in Parkdale (and any number of places around the city and the world) were living with little. In the midst of this pre-existing poverty, there was often incredible generosity. Now, when resources are even more scarce, this generosity is still very alive and well. Here are a few examples that made me smile/cry in the last little while:

During a visit with a friend who has experienced homelessness and has severe mobility issues, this friend told me and Erinn that he decided not to stockpile food and toilet paper but to just get what he needed. “If I have 3 rolls of toilet paper, it means that 2 other people will go without! That’s not cool.”

Later in that same visit, I told him that I was supposed to be going to my first ever Leafs game that night at 7pm, but that the NHL had made the decision to suspend the season at 1pm. My friend is a huge Leafs fan, and was crushed that I was missing “the opportunity of a lifetime”. He started tearing up on my behalf, and prayed for me that God would “hook this girl up! Let her at least bump into [Auston] Matthews on the street or something, God!” I started to cry too– not because of the cancelled game, but because of the huge empathy of my Leaf-loving buddy.

Yesterday we, The Dale staff team, were handing out brunches-to-go outside the church (Epiphany and St Mark’s Anglican) that is our current meal prep headquarters. A man came and picked up a bag, and then was on his way. A little later I went to a nearby parkette to deliver a couple of meals that I had promised to someone. As I approached the parkette, I saw that the man who had just collected a bagged brunch was sharing it with two other men (for whom I had brought food). He obviously didn’t know that I was coming; he didn’t know that there was enough food for all three of them to have a full meal. All he knew was that he had food, that his friends did not, and that he was willing to share.

May these stories be an encouragement, and a challenge to all of us (me included) for whom real or perceived scarcity is a new phenomenon. Our teachers in this are the folks who have been scraping by for a long time, and have been generous for just as long.

Community Despite COVID

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First of all, I want to say thank you for taking time to read this little update on life at The Dale during this pandemic. In the midst of such uncertain times, it means so much to have such a great team of supporters. We do not take you for granted!

As I’m sure you can imagine, the “social distancing” measures that we are all being encouraged to take are especially hard on folks for whom social isolation is the norm. It’s also very difficult or impossible to self-isolate if you don’t have a home in which to do so. If you live in a bachelor apartment or a room in a rooming house, staying inside all day is pretty brutal, and you likely do not have the means or the space to stockpile food. Many of our folks at The Dale are experiencing the compounded hardship of poverty, loneliness, and now the closure of many of the locations where food and social interaction are usually available. 

Given all of these realities, we as The Dale staff team are determined to remain as present as we possibly (and safely) can during this pandemic. One of the great gifts of being a church without our own walls is that we, as a community, are very accustomed to the need to be creative in the ways that we meet. While things are changing daily, we have managed thus far to modify our usual programming. Here is our current weekly schedule:

Sunday– We meet outside 201 Cowan Ave, our usual Sunday worship space. Keeping a safe distance apart, we sing some songs, pray, and pass the peace by looking one another in the eye, rather than shaking hands or hugging. It’s pretty sweet.

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Monday–  We meet outside 201 Cowan Ave, and lunches to-go. Our food delivery from Second Harvest has been able to continue, our friends at Capital Espresso have graciously provided FRESH buns (pictured below), and our friend Natasha has mobilized a troop of bakers to provide yummy things for dessert. Our partners at Greenest City and Epiphany and St. Mark’s Anglican have allowed us the use of an industrial kitchen in which to safely prepare these meals, and tent under which to serve meals.

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Thursday– We meet outside the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center, our usual Thursday breakfast and art spot, to hang out (at a safe distance) and hand out bagged brunches.

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I’ve already mentioned a number of amazing partnerships for which we are grateful, but I’d like to mention a few more:

When I severely under-estimated the amount of supplies that I needed to move from one location to another, the Executive Director of the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust saw me struggling along Queen Street and helped me out.

Our beloved friends and colleagues at Sanctuary have generously shared fresh food that has been donated to them, which will go a long way when we prepare the next few meals for our Dale community.

A dear friend asked what was needed at The Dale (see below for the answer to that question!), and then personally dropped off a bale of paper towel and many ziploc bags at my house, along with some beautiful flowers. ❤20200324_130707

So, in the midst of all that is scary and grim in the world these days, The Dale is still chugging along, and is experiencing the beautiful strength of community.

Thank you again for your support of me and The Dale. We couldn’t do this without all of you!

If you are wondering how to provide additional support to The Dale these days, here is a list of things we could use:

-brown paper bags for to-go meals

-new food containers and ziploc bags

-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 click here.

Grace and peace to each of you in these wild times,

Joanna

Beloved Chris

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Ten days ago, before COVID 19 was the first thing on everyone’s mind, the world lost a truly beautiful soul. So, in the midst of all the pandemic news, I’d like to take a pause and share my appreciation for the life of Chris Vanhartskamp.

It’s hard to adequately describe Chris’ impact. He was such an integral part of the Sanctuary community that it’s hard to imagine 25 Charles St. East without him. I’m sure that pretty much everyone who calls Sanctuary home will have a story to share about Chris’ friendship, generosity, silliness, or faith.

Chris just had a way about him; a way of making people feel like they were really important. As an Indigenous person who was removed from his family of origin early in his life, he would have had every reason to distrust and dismiss white Christians like me. But instead he welcomed us into his circle.

I remember the first time Chris called me “Sis”, back when I was an intern at Sanctuary in 2011. I was completely beside myself; overwhelmed at the honour that he had bestowed on me, despite the fact that I was still new in the community. One of the amazing things about Chris was if he said you were “in”, you were in. But it didn’t take years of being tested and proving yourself for Chris to extend a hand of welcome. He could see when someone wanted to be his friend, and he opened his heart willingly. What a gift, and what a teaching.

Chris also struggled mightily. His heart was full of love, and full of pain. Another thing that I appreciate about Chris is that he shared his struggles openly with his church family. I remember Chris praying this prayer at Sanctuary a couple of years ago: “I love you, Jesus. And I’m just really pissed off with you… I know you love me, Jesus. I’m just having a hard time receiving it.” His vulnerability and faith in the midst of his anger and pain was remarkable.

Chris, I miss you. Thank you for opening up your heart and life to me, and SO many others. Thank you for all that you taught us. Rest well, my friend.

 

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An Ode to Coffee Time

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Parkdale’s Coffee Time is closing this week. While it may seem strange to have an emotional attachment to a B-list coffee franchise location… I do. It’s not just that Coffee Time’s closure smacks of gentrification (the pricing-out of affordable food/drink options, along with affordable housing options), which it does. Coffee Time was more than just a divey coffee shop. Here are a few reasons why:

Because it was a second (often only) living room for many Parkdalians.

Because it still had a glassed-walled section that used to be a smoker’s room, a good twenty years after smoking in public places was banned.

Because The Dale was allowed to host its (sometimes rowdy) Tuesday night Bible study in the aforementioned smoker’s room for a couple of years (until it was finally renovated).

Because The Dale was always allowed to sing Christmas carols (sometimes quite off-key) inside the store, during our annual carolling-around-Parkdale night.

Because the staff let us play Pictionary, Hangman, Charades, and/or Twenty Questions on the third Tuesday of every month, during our “taking a break from Bible study to just hang out” night.

Because it was a regular stop on our Wednesday night outreach walks, because we knew that our folks from The Dale found it to be a welcoming and non-judgemental space to spend a few hours out of the cold.

Thanks for everything, Coffee Time. You’ll be missed.

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Stories

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Last week we held another memorial at The Dale. This one was for a woman named Mary Patterson, also known on the streets of Parkdale as “Irish Mary”. She had a large personality, and considered herself to be a sort of den mother to her crew of friends. She would never hesitate to let you know what she really thought, and was so generous that she would give you the shirt off her back if she thought you needed it more than she did.

I didn’t know Mary very well; I learned most of what I’ve just written about her during the story-sharing time at her memorial. This element of Dale memorials (sharing stories about the person who has passed away) is crucial. We leave lots of time for it, and believe that it’s one of the most important things that we can do as a community. Stories matter.

As Thomas King puts it, “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” We honour the lives of our friends by telling and re-telling the stories of who they were and who they continue to be to us.

I’ve been reading a book recently called In the Shelter: finding a home in the world, by Padraig O Tuama. He, too, writes about stories, and how they can either create shelters for us, or cast shadows over us. Stories matter.

I’ve included parts of a poem from this book below, that I interpret to be a conversation between a human and the Divine.

And I said to him:

Are there answers to all of this?

And he said:

The answer is in a story

and the story is being told.

And I said:

But there is so much pain

And she answered, plainly:

Pain will happen.

The answer is in the story

and the story isn’t finished.

– Padraig O Tuama

We are part of the Big Story of God’s love for the world, and the story isn’t finished. Our little stories can and do weave their way into this Big Story; Mary’s stories, my stories, your stories.