The lead up to The Dale’s February Feast always makes me a little anxious. Which is funny, because in many ways it isn’t that different than what we do for the majority of Mondays throughout the year. It must be the unique variables: needing to cook enough turkey for 150 people without the kitchen facilities to do so and managing an Open Mic, to name two. This past week included making multiple lists, buying groceries in bulk, delivering turkeys to willing volunteer cooks, and always, a lot of prayer.
As I was driving around to pick up turkeys and vats of gravy yesterday, I was struck by how amazing it is to have such a supportive network of people that surround The Dale. Twelve people helped with cooking prep. Another had a friend make 150 packages of beautiful cookies so that everyone attending the feast could have something sweet at the end of the meal. My anxiety lessened as the van filled up with such an abundance of food.
When I arrived at 250 Dunn Avenue, the site of the feast, the space was already filled with people ready to make things happen. Together we got to work. Core community members and staff got potatoes and vegetables on to boil, made stuffing and gravy, buttered rolls, mixed punch, put cranberry sauce in bowls, and refilled salt and pepper shakers. Some decorated tables with tablecloths, tea lights and place settings. Sam, our friend and sound guy for the night, got the stage ready with gear.
Much to everyone’s delight, we also got to visit with Meagan (our Community Worker who is on Maternity Leave), her husband Ian, and their baby Charlotte, as well as our newest staff member Olivia’s husband-to-be, Grant. I have to say, it is so exciting to have The Dale’s family expanding!
By 5:30 pm the room began to fill up. More people willing to volunteer arrived too. Shortly after 6 pm I welcomed everyone and explained how things work when we gather for a meal: we are invited to take care of one another by passing the platters of food at each table, ensuring that we all get a good first serving; the meat and gravy would be delivered to each person separately, just to make sure it gets around to everyone; that we want The Dale to be as safe, respectful and peaceful a place as possible, and that we all play a part in keeping it that way; that should any issues arise to come very quickly to any staff member; we thank everyone who has participated in making the evening happen with a round of applause; and finally we pause for prayer.
The room was full, lively and…so peaceful. The Open Stage began as people were still finishing their very full plates. Children shared songs and poems. One man spoke about discovering The Dale and his memories of the daughter he lost to Leukemia, followed by a song/rap in her honour. Flowers By Irene, a band fronted by two Dale folks, rocked a set. Mr. Bittersweet, Doug, Sam, Sunny, Alisha, Peter, Marlene, Joanna, and I all offered something too.
There is something very special about the kind of community that has emerged at The Dale. We are all the things really: noisy, peaceful, raw, grateful, grief-stricken, struggling, and somehow/sometimes hopeful. We disagree. We have a lot of fun. We are discovering our togetherness in our diversity. As the February Feast came to a close, I looked around the room and thought, what a gift to be a part of this. I became aware, yet again, that the anxiety I carried at the beginning of the day had beautifully melted away.