Fundraising is hard. Period.
I guess I feel like I want to admit this, not in order to induce guilt but to acknowledge my struggle. There are days when I think, “I’m done. I do not want to ask anybody else for money, ever.” Other days I buckle down and prayerfully pursue that which I must: the money to ensure that The Dale continues. I’m grateful that we run a very lean ministry, one that manages to do a lot every week on a small budget. It’s hard though to mix into such a full week the need to find the money for that budget.
My imagination sometimes wanders to a place where money is no longer necessary, where I get to just do what I love doing. I snap back to reality rather rapidly when I receive the insurance invoice or it is payroll time or more groceries are needed. I’m sure everyone, whether you have financial means or not, can relate on some level. Money plays a large role in this life. It’s hard to escape that.
Occasionally I weep over this challenge. I wonder where the next bit will come from because in the moment I can’t envision that it will come at all. I’m not being melodramatic: I was there when we had to consider closing because the account had run dry. It was terrifying, because while we had almost nothing left we had a thriving community of people who needed to remain together. An amazing thing happened in that desperate place- we decided in continuing regardless, whittling away expenses, building partnerships, sharing our story and trusting that we would find enough.
I have to reside in this story when I am overwhelmed with fundraising. I have to remember that we were provided for by so many different people. I often say that God multiplied the loaves and fishes in Parkdale and I mean it. Since that time our circle of support has expanded and strengthened, evidence that it was the right decision to remain open.
Some of the best things in my life have been hard-won. I am certain that however difficult it may be, fundraising for The Dale is entirely worth it. I just have to keep going. One step at a time.
Spring is finally here and I’ve got gardening on the brain. I love getting my hands dirty. I love the way soil, fresh air and plants smell. I really love that there is a community garden in Parkdale that The Dale gets to be a part of. The garden is nestled beside a Community Centre and feels like a little oasis: when I am inside the gate I suddenly feel very far from the hustle and bustle of Queen Street.
Over the years we’ve endeavoured to grow an assortment of things to various degrees of success: tomatoes, carrots, swiss chard, lettuce, etc. We always plant a serious amount of herbs. During one of our more prolific harvests we were able to regularly send people home with packages of fresh food. I dream about being able to do that again.
I believe there is a lot that is important about community gardening. First, it reconnects people to the land: as city dwellers it can be easy to forget where our food actually comes from and gardening allows us to be in closer touch with it. Second, too often people forget the taste of fresh food because the cost can seem prohibitive or they simply have no place to store or cook it. Sharing smaller amounts of food from our own plot helps to combat this. Finally, gardening can help break down the kind of alienation that occurs when people are isolated. Gardening gets people outside where they must work cooperatively toward a common goal. There’s truly something satisfying about seeing a garden come to life.
I think we should each experience the wonderment of seeing a tiny seed buried in the ground, sprout, grow and produce fruit. Have you ever seen a child pull a carrot out of the ground for the first time? I remember the astonishment on my daughter Cate’s face when she yanked out a beautiful, long, bright orange root. I look forward to being similarly amazed this season.
Last week I received a very lovely gift on the occasion of my birthday: a book full of encouragement from a beautiful collection of people in my life. One entry, from a Parkdale friend, said: “When Erinn isn’t smiling, she’s crying…”. This made me laugh out loud (through the tears). She’s right, I have very active tear ducts.
I went through a period when I wanted to temper my tears. I sometimes felt exhausted by the shear force of them. I attempted to will myself to not cry, to hold in that which so freely flowed. It sort of worked. I think I learned more about where my emotion was coming from. In some cases it exposed unhealthy behaviour and patterns in my life. It also made me realize that there is something very precious about crying and that I need not dry myself out.
One of the Bronte sisters once wrote, “But smiles and tears are so alike with me, they are neither of them confined to any particular feelings”. This resonates with me. Tears are a way for me to express my grief, regret, anger, embarrassment, joy and pride. I can laugh so hard that tears stream down my face, and then when no one else finds what I find funny, I tearfully laugh even more (this happens a lot). Occasionally I cry for what seems like no apparent reason until I realize that a smell or some other sense has triggered an old memory. I routinely weep over injustice.
Though sometimes I feel like a crazy mess, I know that crying has a cleansing quality to it. I quite often feel like I need to let myself weep so that I can take a deep breath and keep going. I’m grateful too for friends who know me and accept me as I am, including my friend who says it like it is: when I’m not smiling, I’m crying. Ha.
Parkdale is changing. It is a neighbourhood that has seen ups and downs over the years. At first it was an affluent “suburb” of Toronto, one close to the lake with sprawling homes. Then the Gardiner Expressway was built, effectively cutting off people’s access to the water. Couple this with the de-institutionalization of mental health care which led to people being let out of Queen Street Mental Health Institute, and Parkdale became a neighbourhood in decline. I’m sure these were not the only factors in what became the changing face of the west-end, though I do believe they had a significant impact. The people with means began to move elsewhere while those struggling to get by moved into the once single family dwellings turned rooming houses. To this day there are people who believe that to be from Parkdale means you must be poor.
When I walk along Queen Street West now I am struck by how rapidly it is shifting. For instance, a once derelict building has been transformed into a sushi bar. It always causes me pause, not because I don’t like sushi but rather because of how *different* it feels. The rooming houses are being transformed back into their original state. All of this represents to me that Parkdale is facing gentrification.
I asked one of my community friends how she felt about the change. “I don’t like it” was the response. This person is worried about how she, along with countless others, face being displaced from a neighbourhood that is home. She doesn’t resent the new businesses and restaurants necessarily. She does fear that there will be no more room for the dollar store and more easily accessible (read: affordable) coffee shops and little grocery markets. I was intrigued though by her number one concern: “there are hardly any benches for us to sit on anymore”.
This got me thinking about the surge of videos and articles in the media about our attachment to the virtual world: our phones, social media and access to immediate information. So many of us are constantly on the go, with our heads down. My friend, along with the majority of The Dale community don’t have the option to be glued to a screen. Instead, they congregate outside in public spaces, most often where there is a stoop or a lonely bench. This often raises concern from those who would rather not have people loitering outside. I understand where that comes from and certainly get that a person’s behaviour can go sideways if that loitering includes something like drinking. Conversely, I think there is something to be learned from the kind of community that is formed when people linger on a bench together.
The challenge for Parkdalians, both old and new is to navigate the morphing landscape together. My hope is that we can learn how to co-exist and actually model this to neighbourhoods around Toronto that might face similar change. I suspect it might start with sitting outside together. I agree with my friend, we need some more benches.