Taking care

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Last week during our breakfast-to-go drop-in, I noticed a woman speaking earnestly with Meagan. She seemed to be expressing deep concern about something, which I assumed had to do with a challenge she was facing. Meg listened to this new friend of ours with compassion, for the majority of the time that we were standing outside giving out meals.

Near the end of breakfast, another friend, “Joan”, came up to chat with me about some persistent issues she’s been facing in her apartment building. I listened, and then continued to brainstorm ways that we could help. Partway through our conversation the other woman, whose name I don’t know, came bounding up, pointing at Joan. She exclaimed to Meg, “This is the lady!”

I had no idea what the connection was between the two women– was Joan the source of the other lady’s distress?! But no, it turns out that the lady who had been speaking to Meg was actually sharing her deep and genuine concern for Joan’s situation. She was troubled that Joan was facing the issues that we was, and wanted Meg to know what was going on.

While I had assumed she was sharing her own worries, she was actually advocating for someone else; a person she doesn’t even know very well.

This is community 🙂

Glimpses of “normal”

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A few weeks ago the four of us, Erinn, Meg, Olivia and I, went on a day-long staff retreat. It was our first such retreat since before COVID, and it was fantastic. Some hospitable friends of The Dale have a farm near Uxbridge, and graciously allowed us the run of the place. We spent most of the day sitting around a campfire watching the chicken run around, praying, reflecting on the last 18 months, and making plans for the rest of 2021. Out of that day emerged some fun ideas which, to me, represent some glimpses of “normal.”

Pre-COVID we held an art and breakfast drop-in every Thursday morning at the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center. While we still have a breakfast (to-go) on Thursdays, we have really been missing the opportunity to create art together as a community. One of the ideas from our staff retreat was to have an art afternoon, where each person would receive their own little package of supplies, and sit at their own little table outdoors while we get artsy! This art afternoon will be taking place tomorrow (led by Meg), and we are all very excited 🙂

Another idea was to have a pumpkin-carving afternoon; something we did in years gone by, during our Tuesday afternoon drop-in at the Salvation Army Thrift store (pictured below!) Another chance to get creative, this was also a fun and playful way to celebrate the changing of the seasons. We plan, weather permitting, to carve some pumpkins in a park next week.

While we have little to no control over when/how we will be allowed to use various indoor spaces, we plan to keep seeking out opportunities for fun and celebration in the great outdoors!

Here’s to more little glimpses of “normal” in the coming months.

Our friend John, dearly loved and missed ❤

Falling Back into Routine

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I’ve always liked autumn; sweater weather, cozy blankets on the balcony, and settling back into a routine after the fun but somewhat chaotic nature of summer.

This year, of course, it feels strange to be settling back into another COVID season. Last fall was full of so much uncertainty, as we assumed case numbers would increase as the general population spent more time indoors, but had no idea what that would mean for schools, hospitals, and community organizations.

Now we know what a COVID winter can look like, and we hope against hope that vaccination rates will be high enough for this winter to be better (ie. fewer lock downs and more opportunity to spend time together.)

But we really have no idea what’s coming around the bend. So how do we make plans for the next few months? How do we settle back into a routine that we know may need to change, yet again?

Well, for us at The Dale this means that we keep doing what we know best: leaning on each other, sharing food, walking the streets of Parkdale, laughing and crying together, having good discussions about faith and scripture, tending to each others hopes and fears… Being community as best we can in these ongoing pandemic days.

Peace to each of you in this next season.

In Gratitude for Erinn

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Every August, for most (all?) of the nine years I’ve been at The Dale, Erinn goes away. This month off is a very important part of her annual rhythm; it helps her to rest, recharge, and return in the fall with a new spring in her step.

So…every year in late July, I feel myself gearing up for the following month, knowing that I will have increased responsibility in the community in Erinn’s absence. It’s a different feeling now that we’ve experienced growth on our staff team; I’m no longer “flying solo” when Erinn is away (nor is she, when I am away.) This fact still amazes and delights me! I am so grateful for Meg and Olivia, and the way that we work together to make things run as smoothly as possible.

And, I think I can speak for them too when I say that August makes us all realize afresh just how much Erinn does at The Dale! We all have our own roles, and Erinn’s is uniquely multi-faceted as the Pastor and Executive Director. I’m not going to attempt to list all the hats she wears, because I’d inevitably miss something, but let’s just say there are many.

August also reminds me of the unique presence that Erinn carries with her. I have learned much from her gentle wisdom, authentic compassion and empathetic leadership. The community usually chugs along fine in August, but there is something important missing. Someone.

So, all this to say, I’m grateful for Erinn! I’m always glad for her to take a break, and GLAD for her to return 🙂 Send up a prayer or thought for her, that this month with will be truly refreshing, and for the rest of us at The Dale as we chug along.

Umbrella gift

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Last Sunday was sunny and HOT. We had our big green tent canopy set up, and had positioned chairs in the shade, in anticipation of our outdoor church service. The service began, and the chairs filled up. More chairs were fetched as more people showed up, and eventually there was no more room in the rectangle of shade for any more chairs. I found myself sitting in the sun, and decided to be okay with getting a little burnt.

Then suddenly…I was shaded! A dear Dale friend stood over me, holding up an umbrella. I demurred, as he seemed intent on standing there, holding the umbrella for the duration of the service! So instead he handed it to me, and returned to his chair. I was overcome with gratitude, as I was covered in shade.

One of the things that I love most about The Dale, and that I have missed most during much of COVID, is the way that we take care of each other. This mutuality is core to our philosophy, and has been tricky to live out during this pandemic.

Usually we invite people to help cook our community meals, set tables, do dishes, play music, share wisdom during our discussion-based Bible studies, exchange the peace with a hug or a handshake etc. Nearly all these options have been either eliminated or altered during the last 16 months, and that’s been hard. Don’t get me wrong- as a community we have found ways to both give and receive. But it’s just not as straightforward as it used to be.

Now that many of our folks have been double vaxxed and restrictions are loosening, it feels like we’re starting to see more opportunities for mutual care. Like an umbrella on a sunny day 🙂

One dose at a time

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If you’ve been following the journey of the Dale for any length of time, you’ll know that we’re ALL about partnerships. We are so grateful for the many meaningful relationships we have with individuals and organizations in Parkdale and beyond (including with you, dear reader!)

One of the partnerships that we’ve seen deepen over the last number of years is with the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center (PQWCHC). During non-COVID times we host a breakfast and art drop-in at the health center, and we have collaborated with them for more than a few memorials for mutual friends in the community.

A little while ago a nurse practitioner from PQWCHC asked Erinn if The Dale would consider hosting a vaccine clinic at one of our drop-ins, with the hopes of reaching folks who might otherwise struggle to access a shot. We, of course, said YES PLEASE!

Yesterday a team of doctors, nurses and community workers assembled in the sanctuary of Epiphany and St. Mark’s Anglican, the church outside of which we have been serving our meals-to-go during COVID. As people arrived for lunch, they were invited to access the vaccine clinic for a first dose, or a second dose if they were eligible (based on timing and vaccine match.)

Many folks had many questions, and it was amazing to be able to direct each person to a knowledgeable health care provider to help answer those queries. Some people chose to decline, which was totally fine, and many others chose to proceed with the vaccine, having had their questions addressed with respect and dignity. A number of people teared up with gratitude/relief/amazement that this opportunity was made available, in a safe setting with a community-minded health care team at the helm.

Thank you to this amazing team from PQWCHC. Parkdale is a better, and safer, place for having you here!

Chevy

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As I write this I still can’t quite believe that it’s true: our dear friend Shannon “Chevy” Timmerman has died. Chevy is someone who has been on death’s door any number of times, but we’ve usually been right there with her. I don’t even know how many times I’ve said goodbye to her, thinking it was the last time. The fact that she died suddenly last night is just so jarring.

Chevy has been part of my life for as long as I’ve been at The Dale. She had an uncanny way of worming her way deep into people’s hearts, while simultaneously being frustrating to no end. She loved animals with a passion, especially her dog Jacob who was with her until the very end. At one point she owned seven or eight cats, the oldest of which (Terry) had been with her for about 20 years. She was known to walk with through Parkdale pushing a mesh cage/stroller containing at least one of her beloved feline friends.

Chevy was no stranger to pain. She lived through more difficulty that you would think anyone could, and somehow always seemed to bounce back. Like her cats, she seemed to have nine lives (at least). Despite all that struggle, she somehow maintained an openness to life and love that was quite extraordinary. She was generous and very hospitable (sometimes to her own detriment). Having experienced many years of life on the street, she was always eager to offer a place for people to stay when she was housed.

Chevy was an artist, and one of the things that cemented our friendship was a shared love of the Art Gallery of Ontario. We went there on a number of excursions over the years, and this past Monday (just three days ago) we talked on the phone about our plans to go back, as soon as COVID would allow. I treasure those memories, along with the painting of a ladybug that she gave to us back in 2013 with this message written on the back: “I know I’m a bug, but I’m your guys’ bug now!”

Chevy was a person of deep, raw faith. She would show up to our church services, sitting right at the front with Jacob. She would sometimes toss a ball down the aisle for Jacob to fetch. She often helped Erinn to serve communion, passing the cup of wine to each person saying “the blood of Christ. Get it into ya!” During our communal prayer time she would offer up her heart to God in a way that was vulnerable, trusting, sometimes pissed off, and usually very grateful. The one thing that brings me joy today is knowing that Chevy is safe in the arms of the One who loved her; the One who has now given her the peace of mind and heart that she so often struggled to experience while she was here with us.

There’s a lot more than I could say about Chevy, but I feel like nothing I write can do her justice, or fully explain the unique place that she holds in my heart and the hearts of many. So I’ll end this post with a few photos that I hope can show you a bit more of the sassy, loving, dramatic, creative person that she was. Rest well, Chevy. We love you.

When things work out

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I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all grown weary of bad news. It’s been a looooong year, and COVID fatigue is hitting all of us, in one way or another. Even if things are relatively okay in your little sphere, it’s likely that you’re still feeling more irritable and frazzled than seems reasonable, especially when the doom-y headlines keep coming.

SO… here’s a wee little story from The Dale today, about those somewhat rare and therefore very lovely moments when things just work out:

It was a drippy lunch hour, but folks seemed eager to stick around and chat after receiving their meal-to-go. Some people were doing pretty well, and just wanted to socialize for a minute. Some people were having a really hard time, and needed to vent.

One friend pulled up on his bicycle, laden down with a bag of artwork. He is an artist, and his place has apparently become overly full with his pieces. He offered a bag of paintings to me, to be re-distributed. I hesitated because The Dale doesn’t a ton of storage space, but I really wanted to honour the gift that this friend was giving to us. I thanked him, and took the bag.

A moment or two later, I remembered another conversation that I’d had with a friend who is newly-housed. This person is struggling to make his place feel like a home, as the walls are completely bare. He had asked me to keep an eye out for pictures to help him fill the empty spaces…! Luckily, he was still hanging out in the area, so I was able to hand him the entire bag of paintings. He was thrilled, and took off down the street to buy some double-sided tape with which to hang his new home decor.

So there you go. Sometimes things work out. 🙂

Getting to Know the Neighbours

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One of the many adjustments that The Dale has faced this past year is that we mainly operate out of one space, rather than somewhere different every day of the week. Thanks to our new van (lovingly known as Morrison), we are able to carry lots of supplies with us when we engage in street outreach, connecting with folks in a variety of locations around the neighbourhood. But for the most part we spend our time at 201 Cowan Ave, either in the basement doing food prep and office work, or outside running our programming.

While I really miss our pre-COVID way of operating, I am so grateful to its leadership that this space has remained available to The Dale during the pandemic (when all of our other partner buildings have needed to close). I am also very grateful for the opportunity to build deeper sort of relationships with our current neighbours at 201 Cowan Ave.

This building is primarily known as Epiphany and St. Mark Anglican Church, but is also currently home to a few other organizations: Greenest City (GC), Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT), and Flick the Switch.

Greenest City works with the Parkdale community “to create innovative projects that promote health, support community action, and enhance social and environmental justice in Toronto.” One of the programs of GC is the HOPE Community Garden, in which The Dale has a plot. We’ve had a long connection with GC, particularly with its current Executive Director, and it’s been great getting to see her and the rest of the kind and dedicated staff on a more regular basis.

PNLT is “a community land trust in Parkdale led by a group of residents and organizations trying to protect the social, cultural and economic diversity of Parkdale by redefining how land is used and developed.” As the neighbourhood gentrifies and becomes less affordable, PNLT seeks to ensure that no one is left behind, and that the community members have a say in how space is used. I’ve always had huge respect for this organization, and it’s been sweet sharing some time and space with a few of the fine folks doing this important work.

Flick the Switch is an artists’ collective, founded after a number of artists were evicted from studios in an old factory. They are a vibrant, creative bunch, and have generously partnered with The Dale in a variety of ways.

Other organizations have come and gone from this building over the years, including Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS). These lawyers and law students engage in community organizing, law reform and advocacy. They provide legal advice and representation on a variety of matters including housing rights, which is especially important as Parkdale gentrifies and evictions happen all too frequently. Ironically and tragically, they themselves were evicted from the building they had rented for many years, and found a temporary home in a portion of the basement of 201 Cowan while they searched for a more suitable space.

If this blog seems like one long plug for a bunch of organizations… that’s because it is 🙂 I want to share my gratitude for people doing good work in Parkdale, and these are just the folks who are/have been under this one particular roof! I could go on about PARC, St. Francis Table, PQWCHC, Parkdale People’s Economy (whose acronym is a little too confusing to use these days!), Sistering, Bonar Parkdale Presbyterian, Community Fridges Toronto, the Parkdale Community Food Bank, the Salvation Army Thrift Store, and others, but I won’t…today.

In the midst of this hurting, mixed up world, there is a lot of good. Thank you to everyone mentioned above, and everyone else too ❤

An office of our own

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During the eight and half years that I have worked at The Dale, we have operated without our own walls. All of our programming, and all of our admin work, has taken place in a huge variety of spaces. This is been pretty amazing, and pretty complex.

When I first started at The Dale, Erinn did her admin work by “hot-desking” (using whatever desk was available) at Sketch, an arts-based youth program whose office was in Parkdale at the time. Or she would set up shop in her local library, or work from home. She carried her office in a bag, complete with a tiny stapler and a compact scanner. I had less admin work to do, so I mainly just worked on fundraising from my couch.

We held our two-person staff meetings wherever we could; sometimes at a local coffee shop, sometimes in an emergency room, sometimes in the back of a cab on our way to a funeral. As we grew, we eventually settled on The Rustic Cosmo, a Parkdale cafe, as our Tuesday morning staff meeting spot.

A number of years ago we felt the need for a space to gather later in the week, to provide a structured place and time to chip away at each of our individual bits of admin work and fundraising. Our friend Wendell, the pastor at First Baptist, generously offered us the use of the church’s downstairs kitchen, complete with wifi and a coffeemaker (ie. the essentials), and so that became our Wednesday morning workspace. Any admin that happened during other times in the week happened from our own homes.

When COVID hit, all of our weekly drop-in and meeting spaces closed, except for one: Epiphany and St. Mark’s Anglican (ESM). Last week marked one year since this little church at 201 Cowan Ave became our COVID headquarters. For the majority of the past year we have run outdoor drop-ins and outreach out of this space, conducted our staff meetings over WhatsApp, and done admin from home. But about a month ago we received keys to what is now our very own office (at least for now), as part of our rental agreement with ESM!

Right now I’m sitting with Meagan in our cute little office that we’ve furnished and decorated to be homey and yet conducive to desk work. We have the essentials (again, wifi and a coffeemaker), plus a four person desk, two comfy armchairs, a chalkboard wall, a warm-toned area rug, framed photos of the lake taken by a community member, good lighting, the first of (inevitably) many plants, and… a printer!! Whoa.

I’m still a little in shock that this space is ours. The church has plans to do major renovations down the road, but for now its here for us to use for meetings, a bit of storage, and to help those of us who struggle with self-motivation (ie. me) to work away on our laptops in companionable quiet. We will continue to be a church that is present throughout the neighbourhood, doing outreach with Morrison (our van) and on foot. Once COVID is over, we hope to re-commence using multiple locations around Parkdale. AND it feels so nice to have a little bit of space to call our own for a while.

Thank you for being on this journey with me, and with The Dale! I can’t wait until COVID subsides and I can invite you to our office for a coffee 🙂