If you have never been to The Dale, coming to a Monday Drop-In is a great way to be introduced to our community. It is here that you can see what it means for our people to be invited into ‘full participation’. As messy as it gets, the Drop-In is also a pretty well oiled machine.
Many of our community members, aka volunteers show up around 9:30 am. A huge urn of coffee is put on to perk, tables are set and food prep begins. I arrive at 1o with any additional groceries we need in hand, clean laundry (mostly tea towels and aprons) and occasionally tokens that will be distributed throughout the day. Souad, our Volunteer Kitchen Coordinator guides the action by asking her “sweeties” and “munchkins” to chop the vegetables and get things in the pots. As she so often says, The Dale kitchen is not her’s, but ours. And she’s right.
Joanna and I are in and out of the kitchen, some days more than others, but usually to disinfect a sink, help with some dishes and deliver items from the storage room. We are thrilled to have such an amazing crew cooking really good food for what can be up to 120 people. Trusting our team means that we are free to connect with people in the drop-in. There is usually a nice hum in the room, accented by people jamming on musical instruments in the corner. Yesterday Mr Bojangles was practically on repeat.
There are times when things can get difficult. Take yesterday, when a couple of people had open alcohol in the space. We endeavour for The Dale to be both safe AND respectful and so immediately needed to ask our friends to stop drinking or take it outside. They did. Sometimes people come in crisis, simply needing to be heard and loved. Oftentimes we get to hear very, very painful stories. We also come having our own off days. I can attest to the fact that I have arrived at the Drop-in very much needing to be listened to and hugged.
Just before 1 pm I welcome people and explain how things work: we bring platters of food to every table and ask that each person ensure its fair distribution, at the end of the meal we are all invited to take our dirty dishes to some big bins of soapy water by the kitchen. We give a round of applause to the many people who have helped on that day, explaining this is a meal for the community, by the community. Then Joanna gives a run-down of our weekly schedule, Souad describes the meal and I lead a short prayer.
Yesterday we had a beautiful green salad with fresh garlic and lemon juice, meat patties, ham, a sort of ratatouille, fruit salad and banana cake. People routinely comment on how restorative eating healthy food is. I am convinced that something special happens when people sit around a table sharing food.
Clean-up requires rinsing dishes before running them through a Disinfector and often involves blaring “Stand by Me” and dancing in the kitchen (I highly recommend it). Because we use a space that is not our own, we have to leave it as we found it. All of our kitchen supplies need to be put back in our little storage area in another room. We work to be done by 3 pm.
If you are ever close to 250 Dunn Avenue on a Monday, please drop by. We will encourage you to join a table and enjoy a meal because we want to experience the gift of your presence. I’ll probably tell you about how Mondays are one of my favourite days. Together we can sit back and get a glimpse of The Dale at work.