James.

I got a call early this past Sunday morning to let me know that my friend James Smith had died in the early hours of Saturday morning. He was a member of the other community I call home, Sanctuary. James had called Sanctuary and it’s people family for almost as long as my lifetime. Upon first hearing the news, I thought that James had gone to rest after long battles with his health. However, to my shock and confusion, James was murdered just after midnight early Saturday morning.

It is hard to discuss the details of James death, and think about the man who has been arrested as a suspect, so I will spare you the details as you can find them on the news. I will however share a little about James here as a way to remember him, and share a photo. The description and photo they used on the news was undignifying and not an accurate description of the gem that was James Smith.

I met James almost six years ago when I first started hanging out at Sanctuary as a student. He has (and will always remain in my mind) been seen sitting on the steps of Sanctuary or along the side fence, hanging out with his pals. James was a fixture at Sanctuary, someone I thought would always be there, somehow. We didn’t have a lot of long conversations, but that was something I liked about my relationships with James – I could often sit beside him quietly and comfortably and not say too much at all. James was thoughtful and loyal, and really funny. He had these sayings that cracked people up, and a wide grin and chuckle that would make all his face whiskers stand out. I always picture him sitting outside McDonalds, and if I asked if he wanted something he would blurt out, “A cheeseburger!” and flash that grin right at me. It was hard to miss.

I could say a lot more, but some things are better left to memory. There are a lot, a lot of people who have a James sized hole in their hearts this week, and forever. He had many friends, and impacted a world of people with his sweet smile and charm. James was many things, but he was especially a friend. I walked by the homeless memorial yesterday which can be found inside the Church of the Holy Trinity behind the Eaton Centre. I looked at the last page of the memorial and saw James Andrew Smith, the very bottom name on the list. As I looked up further on the list, I saw a handful of other folks that I know that have passed, and that was only one page of a memorial that is growing each week. The one thought that has been granting me some elements of peace this week is imagining James entering the gates of Heaven, humbly greeting his creator which he was ready to do. I picture him walking upright and well, something he was struggling with lately. I see him greeting his friends, all the ones that have gone already that we miss here on earth. I imagine them all together, no longer sick and hurting.

James was killed. He was taken swiftly and unfairly. As a community, we will never get the goodbye we long for. We will never see him on our steps again. We will never be able to get him a cheeseburger and see his amazing smile. There are so many things left undone. I hope that James is safe and comfortable. He will be missed down here, there is no doubt about that. May he rest easy.

A photo of James and I from a few years ago close to when I started at Sanctuary.

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Good People.

Last night we had the pleasure of sharing the evening with some of our volunteers and partners in the neighbourhood. We try to have an evening like this at least once a year, a Volunteer Appreciation Night, if you will. It is a chance for us to get together out of the context of a drop-in and spend time more quality time with the people that really lift us up and thank them for that.

Last night as we sat together at a local Parkdale institution, The Rhino, at a long table together in the back, it was such a joy and honour to look down the table and see our “people”. Of course we were missing some folks, as not everyone could make it. But we are so grateful for everyone, whether they came or not, and how they selflessly support us and our friends in the community with their time, love, and the gifts that they all uniquely bring.

There was such a mix of friends, from those who come on Monday and work hard in the kitchen making our large lunch, some German interns we have had with us for six months and can’t stand the thought of letting go, some folks from The Meeting House church who walk with us on outreach and organize events for us, some folks who have been around for years and some that are new, all sitting together and reminding us of how loved we are. We could not do anything at all without the support of these people, and so many others.

We chatted, ate together, sat around and shared our stories, got to know people better and caught up with old friends, and it was so magical. These are the moments that I wish we would do all the time, and that’s coming from an introvert! Just to look around at the table, without saying a word, I was filled in my spirit knowing that somehow God has brought us all together. We have some good, good people. And we really love them, just as I know they really love us. That’s the great thing about community work – it’s a lot of give and take. For that, I will always be so grateful.

If you would like to partner with me financially on my journey at the Dale, please email me at meagan.gillard@gmail.com. All my salary is fundraised with the help of generous supporters, and I am still looking to increase my hours from where I currently am at 16 per week. This can be done through cheque, PAR, or CanadaHelps.

Park Tuesdays.

It is that time of year again…. well kinda. Some days of the week these days (even though its the middle end-ish of MAY!) it seems like it’s that time of year again where the weather warms up enough so that we can move our Tuesday drop-in outside to a park.

Tuesdays in the park are always a great time. Except that one time that Joanna was nailed from above with flying produce. But we won’t talk about that now! Besides the occasional eggs flailing through the sky, Tuesdays are usually filled with music floating through the park from our friends jamming on guitars practicing worship songs for Sunday, a couple dogs running around, people from the area walking by enjoying the music and stopping to snack on our chips, picnic tables filled with people or people sitting in circles on the grass, enjoying chips, grapes, juice, the sun, and the company.

I really like summer Tuesdays in the park. It’s a chance for all of us to have a break from the back of the Thrift Store where we normally reside, and get out into the open. I like that there is more space, that we never have to worry about there being enough chairs, that there are pups walking by and running around, and that people seem to be just a little more happy sitting in the sun drinking juice. I know I am !

It is a little precarious at this time of year to say we are always in the park, especially with the spring rain still upon us. There was a time when I first started at the Dale that it seemed like every Tuesday it was cloudy and rainy! But that rush of deciding whether or not to stay outside for drop-in, and ultimately saying yes to the park always gives me a rush.

Please pray that this summer provides lots of good memories in the park, that we will stay safe from flying vegetables (seriously… it happened), and that our friends who are always on the street who don’t have the option to go inside after a drop-in at the park will stay safe and get affordable housing soon. This city really needs it.

Peace to you as summer slowly comes… even though I am one to love the chilly days of winter, I can’t wait to see more of the sun!


If you would like to partner with me financially on my journey at the Dale, please email me at meagan.gillard@gmail.com. All my salary is fundraised with the help of generous supporters, and I am still looking to increase my hours from where I currently am at 16 per week. This can be done through cheque, PAR, or CanadaHelps.

Prayer and Second Harvest.

Every Sunday we get a delivery from an organization called Second Harvest, which is “Canada’s largest food rescue charity.” They rescue thousands upon thousands of pounds of unsold food before it hits the landfill and donate it for free to organizations like The Dale that serve meals to the community. Without Second Harvest we would be hard pressed to serve our largest community meal on Monday that feeds over 100 people. To give you an idea, we often receive potatoes, produce for salad, canned goods to give away, dairy to be used with coffee, meat to serve as a protein, and fruit to have on the side – just to put it quickly. Our volunteers then come together on Monday to put together an amazing meal for our friends. It is always healthy, homemade, and delicious.

As I was taking some meat out of our freezer on Sunday from Second Harvest to thaw for Monday, Ian (who was helping me) said something like, “Wow, you guys really run on prayer and Second Harvest” – “You guys” meaning The Dale. In a lot of ways, that sentiment is completely true. I mean, to be technical, we also run on plenty of volunteer work, many financial contributions, tons of community partnerships, and lots of coffee 🙂 I think what Ian meant was we really couldn’t do any of this without help.

Our situation is so unique. Without a building, we rely on the hospitality of many community locations where we hold our drop-in spaces. Without funding from the government, we rely on the financial contributions of so many people to help us run our programming. Without a large staff team, we rely on the hands of many volunteers to help us cook, run drop-ins, make events happen and many other things. Without Second Harvest, we wouldn’t have half the food we need on a Monday. And without God… well none of this would be happening. Or at least, it wouldn’t be happening well.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say in all this, really. When Ian said that one little thing on Sunday, it really struck me. We couldn’t do much of anything without the help of a lot of you reading this. So I guess I would like to say a heartfelt thank you… whether you pray for us, help us make a meal, encourage us in any way, participate in our community, or just check-in or think of us, you are a huge part of The Dale. Thank you so much.


It would mean so much to me if you were able to partner financially with The Dale to support my role within this ministry. There are a number of ways to do this, including CanadaHelps, PAR, or cheque. Please reach out to me if you would like more information on partnering with me in this way. Thanks for your support!

The Peace of Forgiveness.

I feel like a phoney writing this blog about forgiveness, to be honest. It is something I am not very good at and am still learning about everyday (every hour…). However, the word forgiveness has been following me around this week. It started as a stranger sitting awkwardly next to me on a park bench whom I was trying to avoid. Then it started following me around quite hard to ignore. It finally tapped me on the shoulder, like “Hey! I’m here! And I need you to pay attention.” So here I am, trying to pay attention.

I learn a lot of lessons from my community and friends at The Dale – that lesson most recently being forgiveness. Last week there was a potential for two of our community members to be in messy conflict. I was anxious, waiting for the worst, but praying for a miracle. And it happened. Long story short – on Sunday at church after working through the details of what they needed, they shook hands and forgave each other. It was a literally, “I forgive you” said out loud on both sides. Shortly after, another community member offered a peace offering to a friend he had a disagreement with earlier in the week. Two amazing miracles in the span of a few minutes.

Yesterday I helped facilitate our bible study. We always eat together before hand at St Francis Table for a dollar. I sat with some Dale friends and we ended up talking about marriage and how it can be really hard. We also talked about forgiveness and I admitted that it can be really hard for me to learn, especially in marriage. Then we went into bible study and read the end of John, when Jesus sees his disciples for the first time after His resurrection. We talked about how the disciples ran back to Jesus, and that he greeted them with Peace, even Simon Peter who had betrayed Jesus days earlier.

I was taking all of these things and thinking them over and praying about them in my heart. I was amazed at how forgiveness kept showing up this week, over and over again. Then I realized that God was teaching me a lesson about my own self. Being a wife can be really hard and being in a marriage takes a lot of strength and courage. It also takes sacrifice. As all couples do, Ian and I go through periods where we argue what feels like more often then not in a week. This is really exhausting, and I find myself wanting to be right, rather than to say sorry and forgive. One night this week after we had worked out a disagreement, I remember we actually said out loud to each other, “I forgive you,” and it felt like a weight was gone. That is the power of forgiveness.

I am still learning about this. I am still trying really hard to say sorry, even when I want to say that I’m right. And I am learning what it means to feel peace about forgiveness. It is really powerful, and I am grateful that God uses my friends at The Dale to teach me powerful lessons. May you know the power and peace of forgiveness this week, whether that be with your self or with someone else.


It would mean so much to me if you were able to partner financially with The Dale to support my role within this ministry. There are a number of ways to do this, including CanadaHelps, PAR, or cheque. Please reach out to me if you would like more information on partnering with me in this way. Thanks for your support!

A Letter 3.0

As I was coming up on my Dale-aversary this year, one of the first things that came to mind was my blog and this tradition that I kind of stumbled into doing – that is writing myself a letter every year that I’ve been at the Dale. The first letter of course was more of an encouragement to myself at a time of inner turmoil, a time of intense change, and a time of new beginnings. The second letter was different in that it was more of an, “I did it!” letter, acknowledging that I had made it through the years ups and downs. I could not believe that it was time again to write another letter to myself, marking a full year that has come and gone again. So hey, this is as much to you all as it is to me. Thanks for visiting me here and reading my thoughts, hopes, laments, and all in between. Thanks for the support – prayerfully, financially, friendship-ly 🙂 and otherwise. You are so appreciated.


Dear Me,

Happy Two Years at the Dale! It seems like time is surely flying by now. So much so that you thought it was your three year anniversary instead of two! I have to say that writing this letter feels lighter this year, and more confident. That does not mean that things are always great for you, but I think it means you are learning how to hold things in a new way – a way that allows for more grace for yourself.

A year is a long time. You have had some time now to really dive deeper. You are learning about people, and them about you. I am really proud of you. This relational work is never finished, but you are taking the time. You do not always flinch at the sound of a yell if you know the voice, as it seems easier to walk over and calm it. That takes a lot of knowing in many ways. Knowing that things will be alright, knowing that it’s okay to be afraid but that God walks with you literally in all things, knowing the voices of your friends, and knowing that they are full of the same feelings you have and that you are capable of learning from and helping each other.

I think this year is the year you learn that you are you – a Meagan like no other. You have your own gifts, hardships, love to give, voice to speak with, time to give. You are on a team of powerful, strong, loving women and you each bring something to the table that is different, and that is a good thing. That it is okay if you aren’t walking the same pace as everyone else – sometimes it feels like you are moving very slowly. But that is movement and it is your own. Remember to keep trying new things! You can do hard things!

This year was hard like the others but in it’s own way. There were times you doubted yourself, your abilities, how fast you were fundraising. Be grateful for your team. They have been there for you through the many things this job and this life have tossed your way. Be thankful for their encouragement and support, the way they see things in you that you don’t see, the way they listen and love. There are no two others like Erinn and Jo.

Be thankful for your community! People are trusting you. You are learning to speak to them in new ways. You are learning respect and love for each other. That takes time and effort on both parts. Remember the hard times with people and the mud it seemed you had to walk through, and remember the good times. There were celebrations and mourning, joy and sorrow, life and death, and a variety of in-betweens. They care for you as you care for them – be glad.

Thank you, God for this new year. Thank you for the year gone by. Thank you for teaching me new things about myself. Thank you for my Dale friends who love fiercely. Thank you for Erinn and Jo, my team. Thank you for walking with me and showing me the way.

And thank you, friends and support network for praying for me, blessing me, caring for me, and walking this journey with me.

Here’s to another year at The Dale! May we continue to learn together.

Love,

Me


It would mean so much to me if you were able to partner financially with The Dale to support my role within this ministry. There are a number of ways to do this, including CanadaHelps, PAR, or cheque. Please reach out to me if you would like more information on partnering with me in this way. Thanks for your support!

That Was Paul.

I never believed that Paul Sterns would die.

Paul was a friend of mine, a member of the Sanctuary community that I belong to. Paul was very open about his journey and his health, and I was blessed to know him and his story. He had cancer that was diagnosed a number of years ago. He sought treatment and for a time it was mostly successful until recently when the cancer came back with a vengeance, attacking his physical heart. Paul died peacefully in his sleep on the morning of April 6th, days after his birthday.

His illness is only a sliver of his story, but in a way it was what brought us together. When I was working at Sanctuary a couple of years ago, I came to know Paul. I don’t remember our first conversation, or how it all began. All I know was that suddenly Paul was my friend. I think it was like that for many people he knew. I say his illness brought us together because I got to know Paul by our visits in the hospital while he was getting his chemo. I would arrive usually early, before work, and we would chat while he got his blood work done, waited for the nurse to put the IV in, waited for the chemo to be hooked up, and while it was streaming into his body, trying to undo the cancer that was slowly killing him. I would sit for however long I had, usually with a few others that came around to visit (he was popular), and leave him there to eventually get to work. Paul was always grateful, whether I only had 5 minutes or whether I had two hours. Most recently, Paul would refer to me as the daughter he never had (and never wanted *chuckle*). I know there were many of us at Sanctuary who he lovingly thought of us daughters – as family. I was honored.

Paul.

The hardest part of a memorial for me is walking in. I am struck by the finality of what is about to happen. I walked into Paul’s memorial on Monday not believing that it had come. Paul was given a couple of weeks to live a few days before he died. To say that timeline was off was an understatement. He died two days later. I am so grateful that I made it home from my trip to visit him one last time on Friday. He died the next morning. To be honest, I don’t remember what I said to Paul. I remember joking with him as always. I remember there being a few of us there with him. I remember him talking about his death. And I really don’t think I said goodbye – a real goodbye. I didn’t think that would be the last time I ever saw my friend Paul on this earth. I hope he knows that when I said, “See you later” hoping that it would be Sunday, that it would translate to more of a metaphorical see you later.  I can’t wait to see Paul again one day.

Paul’s memorial was filled with his friends and family. People shared stories of his life, his journey (the good and the hard), funny memories, and things that he did along the way. I was struck by how many of these stories ended with, “and that was Paul.” That was Paul indeed. He was funny, charming, kind, generous, inappropriate, rude, endearing, smart, weird, talented, hardworking, and a hundred other things. He was a good friend. Our pastor Greg said that when he visited Paul the day before he died, he asked if he could pray for Paul. He did, and then Paul ended up praying too which he hardly ever did, at least out loud. But he prayed to God, and he prayed for all of us. He didn’t pray for himself and his body that was slowly letting go. He didn’t pray that he would go peacefully. He prayed for his friends and family. He prayed for each one of us. That was Paul.

I don’t know if I will ever believe that Paul is dead. I see him already in strangers, which often happens when a friend from my community passes away. I see glimpses of him and know he’s around. I know he’s not in pain, and I know I will see him again one day. But that doesn’t make it easy. I long to sit once more with Paul. I long to hear one more joke, tell one more story, see one more sheepish smile. I will miss Paul for a long time.

There are a hundred things I want to say. A hundred more stories and a hundred more wishes. When I helped carry Paul’s body out of the building on Monday with a group of his closest lady friends (which is exactly what he wanted), I felt honored to be a part of his journey – his journey in this life and his journey to get him Home. I was honored to have known Paul for the short time I did. I was honored to call him my friend. He will be deeply missed. That was Paul.

The Clothing Room.

To anyone else, our system is a bit odd. As many of you know, The Dale does not own it’s own building. So we store stuff here and there, in various rooms and fridges and nooks and bins. Part of being The Dale means we also receive donations of various things – the majority of the food we use for our Monday lunch through Second Harvest, time, love, prayers, toiletries, money, music talents, and clothing just to name a few things.

In an effort to keep things contained, we often gather any clothing donations and put them in our room of stuff in the building we use on Monday. This is the day we usually give out clothing donations, as we see the most people during this drop-in and we have that room for our belongings, so our capacity for storage is larger.

Since I’ve started at the Dale, we have usually taken to folding some clothes, and putting them on the stage in the main drop-in room for people to sort through and take what they wanted or needed. However, it usually ended up in a big messy clump of stuff leaving the items hard to distinguish and not very dignifying for someone to go through. At one of our last retreats, we decided as a team for various reasons that we would go through the clothing at the beginning of a Monday, hang them on a rack that just so happened to be at the church where we hold our drop-in, and have a clothing “room” of sorts – people could visit this rack as they pleased, look through things that were nicely hung up, and decide with dignity what they wanted.

After some time and consideration, we also decided that this would be a great job for me. I love to organize and tidy and do things that are tangible. I also love connecting with people, but often find that I get overwhelmed in large groups sometimes. The clothing room would be a way for me to use my organizational skills, and connect with people more individually as they made requests for any clothing they needed.

I have to say, I love my new “job”. I wake up on Monday looking forward to getting the clothing rack ready, and I have a list on my phone of things that people have asked me to keep an eye out for and their size. I love seeing the joy on their face as I bring them sometime they might find useful, and I like looking through the items we have received and hanging them up in a way that looks nice – that someone would be dignified by. Writing this, I am thinking of my grandma Beulah, who organizes and runs her own clothing room at her own church in Innisfil (to say she “runs” this clothing room initiative would be an understatement, but I digress). I am grateful for her example of love and care in all the tasks that she has her hands on, and her example of what it means to love people well, being the hands and feet of Jesus in her own community.

I am grateful that my team sees my strengths and encourages me in different roles. I am grateful that my community trusts me with their requests and desires for pants of a certain size, or a pair of shoes that they need. And I am grateful for all the clothes that are given to us from various places, and that they could be used in a way that springs forth love and dignity.

It would mean so much to me if you were able to partner financially with The Dale to support my role within this ministry. There are a number of ways to do this, including CanadaHelps, PAR, or cheque. Please reach out to me if you would like more information on partnering with me in this way. Thanks for your support!

A Sweet Tuesday – Day in the Life

This week with Jo being away, I was bracing myself for a busy week. I knew that Tuesday would especially be busier than usual, as I would have a staff meeting with Erinn, a drop-in at the Thrift Store, and couple hours of work time before eating dinner and helping facilitate our weekly bible study (something Jo usually does each week). If you’re like me, sometimes it is only with hindsight that you realize you should be a little more positive about a day to begin with, rather than dreading it’s length, because yesterday turned out to be pretty sweet.

First of all, Erinn and I sat cozily in our usual cafe for a staff meeting. We were able to check in, talk Dale business, and have a meal together. We definitely missed our third partner in crime, Jo. But I really enjoy staff meetings and this one was no exception!

After that, we were very early to the Thrift Store… so we had the chance to sit in the car and chat some more while I finished my lunch. Just as we were packing up to leave the car, I noticed a man across the street fall flat on his face from the sidewalk onto the open road right off a bustling Queen Street. Erinn ran over with me on her trails, and we helped the man up. It turns out that Erinn knew him from around Parkdale, and we were able to sit with our friend while we waited for the ambulance to come. He was very grateful, and hopefully he is safe and taken care of.

We finally made our way into the Thrift Store. One of the ongoing challenges of having drop in at the Thrift Store is having enough chairs in our little coffee corner, as just as chairs come into the store they obviously also get sold. Yesterday we sat on a collection of chairs, night tables, boxes, and coffee tables – a reminder that anything can be a chair if you really need it and that The Dale folks are really great at rolling with the punches. Luckily there were just enough bums for the “chairs” we had around, and we enjoyed a peaceful time together, munching on chips and grapes, sipping on coffee and hot chocolate, and talking together. Some of our friends even played violin and guitar and it was so nice to have customers coming to the back and listening for a while before moving on… it seemed like people’s days were made – and ours too!

I had some time before dinner, so I went to the local library with some of our German missionary friends who have enthusiastically joined us at The Dale in the past couple of months. We sat together at a table and did our own work in the surprisingly loud hustle of the Parkdale library. We even met a lady sitting at our table that was intrigued by a tea my German friend was drinking, as she remembers having it at home in Argentina. It was nice that he got to tell her a bit of his story, and we even told her about The Dale.

At 5:30 we made our way across the street to eat at St. Francis Table, a local place in Parkdale run by monks and volunteers who serve meals to folks in the community for only a dollar a plate. The food is really good, and we got to sit together with some of our Dale friends who happened to be there eating. It felt like a really nice family dinner of sorts, where we all can come as we are and share a meal together. One of our Dale regulars asked me to pray over his meal before he started eating, and that felt really special to me.

Finally to end the night, a few of us went over to our regular room next door and did bible study together. We sat around a small table, prayed, read the Bible, and discussed the contents. We were reading from John 17 and 18, and it was so lovely to sit with my friends and talk about the Bible. I know that God is moving in me, and in them, and it is nice to hear everyone’s perspectives.

I am grateful for these days, a mixture of odds and ends that somehow string together into something so familiar. And I am grateful for my Dale family that I can sit on any number of chairs with at any number of places and have it still feel like home.

A little sample of our Thrift Store fun.

It would mean so much to me if you were able to partner financially with The Dale to support my role within this ministry. There are a number of ways to do this, including CanadaHelps, PAR, or cheque. Please reach out to me if you would like more information on partnering with me in this way. Thanks for your support!

Little (big) Gifts

My birthday was February 2nd. It was a Saturday, and I really didn’t expect many people from The Dale community to know or remember, considering that I didn’t shout it from the rooftops! However, to my surprise, I was greeted on the Monday after my birthday with three little gifts that filled my heart in a big way.

“Joe” came right up to me as I was making the coffee for drop-in and said “Happy Birthday, Darling!” in his booming voice, and handed me a mixture of things he found that he thought I would like. In the bag were mostly toiletries, and he said he hoped I could find some use in them! LOL I think that was part of his cheeky humour coming out.

“Sarah” gifted me a little surprise, gently wrapped in a sock. Upon unwrapping it, I discovered a beautiful porcelain turtle. She said she had found it on a shelf in her home and wanted to give it to me for my birthday because she knows how much I love turtles – oh, to be known so deeply that little details stick. I was really touched. Below is a photo of my new little turtle friend…

My turtle.

Finally, a crew of our steady volunteer kitchen ladies presented me with a sweet and encouraging card that they all signed with a little jar of homemade crab apple jelly. One of the ladies had picked the crab apples from down the road of where we hold drop-in and made them into jam. A labour of love and a gift from the heart.

I am truly loved and blessed by my friends. To remember the day I came to life and to present me with such thoughtful, beautiful gifts… these are the kind of gestures that make me feel warm and fuzzy when I think of community. Of course being in community has it’s ups and downs. But the “ups” are so, so beautiful and really make me feel grateful that God called me to do this work.


It would mean so much to me if you were able to partner financially with The Dale to support my role within this ministry. There are a number of ways to do this, including CanadaHelps, PAR, or cheque. Please reach out to me if you would like more information on partnering with me in this way. Thanks for your support!