I have very vivid memories of the beginning of Covid, especially at The Dale. Just the week before the world shutdown, we held our Monday Drop-In as usual. In that moment we had no idea of what was to come. We encouraged people to use sanitizer, as well as our little hand-washing station, one that almost looked like something you would find in a dentist office. I even suggested that we didn’t want to be alarmist about the just-starting-to-make-the-news-virus during our announcement time. Within days everything changed.
The first few weeks we cooked hotdogs for people on our little charcoal BBQ and served them outside. No longer able to meet indoors for our Breakfast and Art Drop-In, we began making breakfasts to go: hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, fruit, juice, and a muffin in a brown paper bag. We gathered beside the building where we would normally be hanging out inside to distribute the meals, until it was clear the police were watching and began to encourage us to move along. Then buying groceries became a challenge because stores would only let me buy one dozen eggs. The volume of food we needed for The Dale was perceived to be fending and hoarding for myself- something I could explain if given the opportunity, though that was not always possible.
I will never forget having to write a letter for each of our staff proving that we were front-line workers, therefore allowing us to be out in public during the lock-down should we be pulled over. It made the situation glaringly real. I still have mine in my backpack. More importantly, I will never forget the impact on our community. For those able to shelter-in-place, but with limited resources, the isolation was devastating. For those without housing and unable to access the shelter system, there was truly no where to go: no bathroom access, no places to warm-up, no benches to sit on without harassment. And The Dale, an organization without our own building, could not offer any indoor alternative.
The good news is that The Dale was able to readjust to the new reality quickly, being already both nimble and nomadic. In retrospect those early days were easier than what we are faced with now: having to figure out how to re-open. Our partner buildings are understandably still discerning how to open up for themselves, let alone for an external group like us. The Public Health guidelines for high-risk settings like ours are more stringent than the general public. None of this makes our own launching into regular-ish life straight-forward. It all feels a little too…unimaginable. But that is not who The Dale is. We are always looking for a way and are certainly willing to try and try again until we find the sweet, albeit messy, spot.
For now, we continue to provide meals-to-go. We spend a lot of time outdoors, even when the weather is terrible. Our Sunday gathering is the only thing happening indoors again, and for that we are exceedingly grateful. We go where we are needed, whether that be to someone’s home for a visit, or to drop off groceries, or to say hello on a street-corner. Though we wish they were not necessary, we are able to hold funerals again, meeting a need that Covid truly stole from us. Throughout it all, we are finding ways as a community to honour that every one of us has something to both give and receive. I am being cared for, just as I get to offer care. Every person holds a unique role, because each one brings their own gifts.
The last two years have been admittedly brutal. I remain so grateful for and proud of our community, one that teaches me about resilience, creativity, and hope, even in the most desperate of times. While we haven’t been able to do things the way we prefer, we have tried very hard to “Dale-i-fy” (that’s one of my new favourite words) everything. Can’t sit around a table? At least we can drink hot chocolate together in a park. Have to line-up for a meal? The staff can be in the line with our folks. Can’t gather on Sundays indoors? We will pitch a tent in a parking lot. Have to sleep outside? We can provide new blankets and sleeping bags. Must be isolated? We will show up at the door to say hi and bring needed supplies. I am confident that as we navigate this next transition, we can make sure to Dale-i-fy it too. Your support as we try is deeply appreciated.