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.