Paying it forward might actually be easier done than said, or at least in the case of this retired Scarborough resident.
Sandra Ralph, 59, has put together a women’s open door café for the past three years in hopes of getting women of all ages, backgrounds and faiths to connect with one another.
Her acts of hospitality are what she hopes attendees will acknowledge and take back with them to apply to their everyday lives.
”We need to spread love around when we get together so everyone feels appreciated,” Ralph said. “When you feel that way, you feel the need to go out and do the same thing to others, which becomes a domino effect.”
The meetings take place the last Thursday of each month at Faith Family Books & Gifts Co. in the east end of Scarborough. Ralph says that she usually gets 15 women, although they are often not always the same participants.
“Every topic we discuss is meant to be encouraging,” Ralph said. “In September’s meeting everyone talked about their favourite season and then a time in their life when they were coming out of a hard season and how they did it.”
For 10 years prior to the opening of the women’s group, Ralph had been trying to reach out to others by taking women on weekend retreats within a church group in the west end of Toronto.
“Some women can become lonely and need someone to connect with to feel special,” she said. “A few widows attend and reach out to each other because they’ve been through it and can relate.”
Ralph often finds herself having one-on-one time with some of the ladies outside of the café who feel that the once-a-month meetup is not enough. Ultimately, Ralph, the self-defined people lover, said she wants the women to build a trusting friendship with one another and give back to society what they take in.
The café bookstore allows Ralph and the women’s group to use the space for free.
”The café sells coffee and goodies so we are bringing in business as well, although it’s not mandatory you buy anything from them,” Ralph said. “I chose not to have these meetings in a church because it’s not about church and religion but rather about the people themselves and making them feel comfortable in a neutral setting.”
Ralph hopes that in the future more cafés across Ontario will have responsible and passionate women that are willing to host the same kind of women’s group meetings.
In the meantime, she is putting together her October agenda. She plans to create masquerade masks with printed words such as hope, faith and patience on them. This is to help open the discussion to the women about what other people see in them that they may often ignore, keeping hidden away behind this figurative mask of life.
During the summer, Ralph also hosts an annual tea party at her residence in which she invites 30 to 35 of the women who attend the group meetings.
”The women have never had to pay a penny for anything,” Ralph said. “I don’t want people to think they have to pay because I’m not an organization and I want them to feel free and special.”