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Kitchen renovations at Orillia food bank ramp up meal program

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After three years of meticulous planning and hard work, the Sharing Place in Orillia kitchen renovations are complete, generating thousands of healthy meals.

For the past month, staff have been making meals free of charge out of their new kitchen for people in need in the community.

Although the meal program has been taking place for three years now at St. James Church, the team at the Sharing Place says having their own space to cook has been a considerable benefit.

"Since open, everything's been going really smoothly," said Zachary Vaillancourt, executive chef at the Sharing Place. "Before the kitchen was open itself, we were doing about 300 to 500 meals and in the month that we've been open, we've been able to double it doing a little over a thousand meals a week."

Vaillancourt said he uses the donated foods and raw ingredients to the best of his ability to make healthy meals that people can easily enjoy.

"Some of our clients who access the food bank aren't able to cook for themselves in that sense or don't have access to a place where they're able to cook. Today, we're doing honey roasted garlic red chicken and egg fried rice," said Vaillancourt.

Volunteers involved say the response from individuals receiving the meals has been overwhelming.

The newly renovated kitchen at The Sharing Place in Orillia, Ont. (CTV News/Molly Frommer)

"I wanted to volunteer because I've seen what a big impact this place has on my community, and I wanted to be a part of it. We get calls from people saying how much it helps them and just the feeling you get when you receive those calls," said volunteer Kolton Ditchburn.

"Handing out the meals free of charge is really good. I work up at the front, so I hand out the meals, so I get a lot of good comments on how good the meals are and everything," said volunteer Karen Low-on.

Executive director of the Sharing Place, Chris Peacock, said with inflation, the timing of the completed kitchen renovations could not be better.

"A lot of dual-income families now are sitting in a position where they're not able to fill their kid's lunch boxes. So, we're hoping that we can continue to get support from our community and support over 18 per cent of our community in low-income, and that was a stat before inflationary times in 2021. We know that that is only going to get worse, and we need to be here for those individuals," Peacock said.

Officials at the Sharing Place say by Christmas they hope to double the number of meals made to 2,000.

Staff are also looking to bring on roughly a dozen more volunteers.

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