A Day in my Life at The Dale

I arrive at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre at 9:30 am, carrying a bag of groceries: an extra-large carton of eggs, a mound of oranges, a box of pancake mix, and a small bottle of real maple syrup that was donated by a community member. I briefly struggle to balance the food and my backpack so that I can open the door to the room we use for our Thursday drop-in.

Moments later another member of The Dale arrives. He is originally from Syria, having sought refuge here in Canada. He greets me with broken (yet rapidly improving) English and a light kiss on both cheeks. We busy ourselves in the kitchen, as he is our bi-weekly cook. I put the coffee on while he organizes the food.

Meagan, Joanna and I gather around a set of three tables, pushed together like a big rectangle. We are slowly joined by others. Some decide to colour, as we have a number of colouring books to choose from. Others share stories about their day. Collectively we laugh and listen, occasionally sitting in quiet.

I leave the drop-in mid-way through because another community member needs a pastoral visit. He is very sick and likely close to death. I walk into his darkened room and together with another friend, pray. It is a short, sacred visit. We both say, “I love you” before I leave to return to the drop-in.

Upon my return I hear that someone at the table is having a particularly rough day. Sometimes this means our space becomes not safe for others, and so deliberate intervention is needed. This can be one of the most challenging parts of this work: having to explain to someone why their behaviour is inappropriate, and that the consequence is having to leave. Today it is done tenderly and carefully by Joanna and Kim, a long-time community member and outreach team worker.

Throughout the remainder of the drop-in I talk with people: conversation, followed by conversation. Some need to discuss very difficult life circumstances and ask what kind of support is available, others just need to vent, a few want to share some good news, including how they believe God is taking care of them in surprising ways. I get repeatedly asked how I am too, often with eyes full of concern and care.

Eventually dishes get done, art supplies get packed up and returned to a storage room, our coffee and other pantry items get placed in a bin that lives in one corner of the fridge, and we slowly make our way to the front lobby to say goodbye. Only on this day a group of us are going to celebrate a community member’s birthday by going out for Chinese food, a gathering that provokes joy and is a lot of fun.

I rush away to a conference call about an upcoming conference where I will sit on a panel to discuss mental health challenges, something all people are touched by in one way or another. As I close my computer after the call finishes, I reflect on my day. I have the opportunity on a near daily basis to touch and see and hear and smell and feel so many different things.

Today I breathed in the aroma of breakfast food being cooked by a friend for a whole room full of people, many he doesn’t know. I touched the close veil of death. I heard people share so transparently and vulnerably that I was challenged to do the same. I was hit with a wave of pride at seeing The Dale team in action. I became excited about the conference in May. And I watched the birthday friend glow as we sang happy birthday, ate chicken balls, and belly laughed about the silliest things.

This is a day in my life at The Dale.

A Feast in February

I think it is difficult to convey how something makes me feel. The Dale’s annual February Feast happened last Saturday, and it made me feel A LOT of feels, the kind that if I could bottle them up and share, I would. I caught a smattering of photos, but that doesn’t quite capture it either.

For many years we have chosen to save our big turkey dinner for February, rather than December. There are simply so many meals of this type going on around Christmas, but in the dead of winter? Not so much. To add to the festivities, we also have an Open Mic. This is an opportunity for anyone to perform, and we applaud the courage to do so.

We had enormous support from a variety of people for this event. Groups from two other churches volunteered to help cook, set-up, serve, and clean-up. I loved seeing Dale community members chopping potatoes alongside new friends. Over the course of the evening, I noticed how the differences between these volunteers and the rest of the community became increasingly muted. There was a palpable sense of connection in the room.

Vibe Peace, a collective The Dale is newly acquainted with, led an art jam throughout the evening. They brought all the art supplies and set up two tables where everyone could contribute to three separate pieces. I have to say, collaborative art is one of my favourite things.

While we ate, listened to some amazing musicianship, conversed, performed and created, there were hard things happening too: some needed tokens to get to their shelter bed, or coats to survive the cold. Others were reeling at new loss in their lives. And somehow, many of those same people found respite for a few hours. More than one person expressed how amazed they were to be feeling genuinely happy, even briefly.

One of my favourite moments was when one person bravely sang parts of Country Roads by John Denver. She later told me, quoting the song: The Dale is “the place, I belong”. That, along with so many other moments made my heart full. I found myself stopping to just listen and take it all in. I long for a community where every tongue, tribe and nation are together; where socio-economic lines are blurred; where we are more aware of the ways in which we are alike, than different. On February 9th I caught a glimpse of that. It was a good night.