After more than three years of planning, The Sharing Place Food Centre’s new kitchen is up and running, and the facility will soon quadruple the number of healthy meals it serves to the community on a weekly basis.
The kitchen replaces a previous arrangement with St. James’ Anglican Church, where The Sharing Place cooked and distributed about 500 meals per week for its Meals-4-Change program.
By January, that figure is expected to rise to 2,000 meals per week, said executive director Chris Peacock.
“It’s incredible. A lot of work has been put in by a lot of people, and this community stepped up and responded. (I’m) thankful to have a great team here to be able to execute it, and it’s a huge weight off our shoulders, knowing that the project is complete,” he said.
“Now the pressure is on to ensure that we can continue to grow our programs and grow our impact.”
Open since early September, the kitchen has already doubled the centre’s weekly meal output, with meals distributed directly to those in need and to community partners, like St. James’.
There are plans to eventually distribute meals to freezers in Orillia and beyond to provide greater access to healthy food.
“We are also working with community partners to make sure we have a network of freezers situated not just in Orillia … in our surrounding areas that don’t have emergency food access … to ensure they can get some healthy meals,” Peacock said.
He said the benefit of the new kitchen is twofold.
While it dramatically increases the number of healthy meals going into the community, the kitchen will also help the centre grow its team of volunteers, many of whom benefit greatly from their time at The Sharing Place.
“A lot of parents, a lot of individuals really struggle with food access, so the ability to get something that’s ready-made and quick to eat really helps them, but then the second part is the individuals that prepare the food,” Peacock said.
“Almost just as important as the food we get out the door is the environment, (where) we can have a bunch of people hanging out and helping grow our team, and share their stories, their challenges and … help them out with food at the end of the day, as well.”
The food used in the new kitchen comes from The Sharing Place’s food recovery program, community donors like Leadbetters, and food purchased directly by the centre itself.
Peacock said it costs about $1.92 in total to produce a single meal, and he hopes to see that figure drop as The Sharing Place scales up its operation.
“That will only lower, I would hope, in price as we build our volume of meals to get out,” he said. “We are producing healthy, nutritious, ready-to-eat meals at scale, at a price point that is the same cost as a can of tuna.”