What does it mean for us to love our neighbours? Due to the rapid growth in Willowdale over the last few decades, many people no longer know their neighbours - making it very hard to love them. This pandemic has highlighted the importance of living not just in houses and condos, but in community. We Love Willowdale was founded with this desire - that we could love our neighbours through the Yonge Street Tragedy. With this same desire, we started the Willowdale Covid Response Network to address the needs in our neighbourhood through the pandemic.
I am grateful for all the volunteers who have helped and those who have courageously asked for help. I believe both giver and recipient are beneficiaries when we help each other.
Running this network has highlighted to me the existence of food insecurity and social isolation in our neighbourhood. This can be hard to imagine when our community is considered one of the more affluent neighbourhoods in Toronto. Yet, in this, there is all the more opportunity that we, as neighbours, can truly make a difference in the lives of those who are struggling among us.
One of the people who I met during this pandemic is someone who goes hungry for 2 weeks every month due to their limited fixed income. When I first met this person, I saw so many challenges that I wanted to help solve. But as I spent time with this person I realized the greatest gift I could give them was a friendly visit. Yes, we are still working on many things to help improve their quality of life - but my visits cannot simply be problem solving sessions which will overwhelm them and cause them to lose their trust in my intentions.
I have sat in with this neighbour on a few agency appointments where I can see the solution to help vulnerable people cannot be only dependent on government agencies. There are limits to what they can do, and, because they deal with hundreds of vulnerable people every day, their approach can sometimes make the most vulnerable feel disrespected or uncared for.
The agency representative asked me how I had gained the trust of this neighbour and my answer was, "time." It has been said the LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E. The greatest gift we can give anyone is our time - to listen and to care. We were not meant to live in concrete jungles where neighbours do not know their neighbours. Thus, my deep belief for the work we are doing is that even in the city, we all need a village.
It has been said that loneliness is the root of many struggles both physical and psychological including addiction, depression, and obesity. John Cacioppo, a leading loneliness researcher, found that 1 in 4 people regularly feel loneliness and chronic loneliness increases the odds of an early death by 20%. By building a community where neighbours can know and care for their neighbours - we are addressing the loneliness that is chronic in our modern society.
We recently created a meal chain for this vulnerable person that was quickly filled up by caring neighbours. I hope these visits with food will help affirm to our neighbour that they are worthy to be cared for. There is a parable in the Bible that talks about a woman looking everywhere for a lost coin, or a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to seek out the one lost sheep. The story is an analogy for how Jesus cares about the one and not just the masses - the the one that is missing has great value and is worth the effort. Similarly, it is my hope that this vulnerable neighbour would know that we, as their neighbours, are looking out for them and they are worth the effort.