SIRCH Community Services is creating a new bistro and marketplace with the help of a three-year, approximately $800,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

The organization is shifting its main office to a new building at 49 Maple Ave., with the bistro portion soft-launching Nov. 4. At more than 3,900 square feet, it is more than twice the space of its previous building. The organization plans to use the building as a training centre with a commercial kitchen, that will allow it to expand its programming.

SIRCH executive director Gena Robertson said the move is a way to boost its Ready for Retail and Cook It Up programs, which train people for retail and kitchen jobs.

“Be able to support graduates better after they left us and got employed,” Robertson said. “Having this space provides so many opportunities.”

The new location, which also has a separate office space on the upper floor, will serve breakfast and lunch five days a week. SIRCH also plans to develop a marketplace featuring local artists and entrepreneurs. It will also be the new home for its free-meal production, which SIRCH increased to 500-per-week at the start of the pandemic but scaled back due to affordability.

Robertson said they hope to help fund those free meals through their annual Gifts from the Heart fundraising campaign, which runs from Oct. 13 to Dec. 31.

“We know the need is there for prepared meals,” Robertson said. “Sometimes if people are depressed or ill or frail or homeless, they need prepared meals. And we want to be able to do that for the County.”

Robertson added it is not their intention to compete with local eateries.

Marketplace co-ordinator Wendy Ladurantaye said SIRCH will strictly follow health protocols to ensure safety at the new facility. She said they are still developing the marketplace but hope to give local artists and craftspeople space to rent. It will also act as a training opportunity for its Ready for Retail students.

“Our Ready for Retail people will be able to help with merchandising, to learn about displays and the customer service end of things,” Ladurantaye said.

Food Initiatives Coordinator Jay McIvor said the larger space will make a significant difference for the organization.

“It’s certainly going to increase exponentially everything we do,” McIvor said.

The three-year Grow Grant requires SIRCH to successfully get people employed, Robertson said. SIRCH made the application in October 2019, with the sudden pandemic presenting an unexpected layer of challenge.

“We have to do the best we can with the circumstances we’re dealt,” Robertson said. “There’s lots of opportunities. I hope that other things will spin out of this as well, that will contribute to the community health.”

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