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Funds launched to help vendors displaced by fire

Owners of the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market are working to find temporary workarounds to get operational again

Nearly two weeks after the Labour Day fire that destroyed the main building at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, the businesses are still the top priority. With 67 vendors displaced, some of whom have made their livelihood at the market for generations, charitable initiatives are forming to provide relief, while Mercedes Corp., the company that owns the market, looks for ways to provide accommodation.

“We’re trying to get as many of the food vendors into new facilities as possible, even if it’s on a smaller scale,” said Mercedes Corp. president Marcus Shantz in an interview this week. “We would like to get some kind of temporary structure up as soon as possible, because a permanent building is a longer-term proposition and we need to keep the market running now.”

Since reopening on September 5, five of the market’s upstairs businesses and 11 of the food vendors have been temporarily relocated to the outdoor market or Peddler’s Village. Mercedes Corp. is also working with the Woolwich Fire Department and Region of Waterloo Public Health to accommodate businesses that plan to open food trucks.

Shantz said an announcement for a temporary structure should come within weeks. “The details of that haven’t been formalized, but it’s the number-one priority right now.”

Damage from the fire is estimated as high as $4 million. While Mercedes will not be seeking direct government aid for reconstruction, Shantz added, “If there’s a way to adjust levels of government into projects that may be of more general benefit, that may improve things for vendors or improve things for the public, we’re open to that.”

The chief concern remains the impacted vendors, and Wednesday saw the announcement of the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market Vendor Relief Fund, a charitable initiative from the Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation in collaboration with Woolwich Township, Home Hardware and Mercedes Corp. The fund, orchestrated by volunteers Dan Herman and Helen Kaluzny, will channel money from the community towards the affected businesses that meet certain criteria (to be determined by community leaders).

“We were very concerned for the vendors, but getting involved in a relief effort, for a number of reasons, isn’t something that we’re set up to do as the owners,” said Shantz.

Another new initiative is Woolwich Community Services’ “Text-to-Give,” which raises money for vendors with support from United Way K-W and Libro Financial Group. The program allows donors to text “UCARE” to 45678 and to add a $5 gift to their monthly phone bill.

“We were sensing in the community that a lot of people were wanting to do something,” said Don Harloff, executive director of WCS. “The market has been a source of pride, and also something that’s been part of the roots of this area for many, many years. We were hearing people saying, ‘What can we do? How can we help?’”

Harloff is quick to pre-empt skepticism. “Insurance doesn’t cover everything,” he said. “There have been comments: ‘Well, it’s a business, and everybody’s insured, so why should anyone worry?’ Well, they are businesses, but many of them are small, single-proprietor, and many have lost everything – all of their supplies. Maybe some of that will be covered by insurance, but not all of it.”

“There’s so much grassroots interest in getting vendors on their feet,” said Shantz. “We’ve never felt this much love. … It’s been great to see the support from the community, and especially from the vendors to keep it running as much as possible.”

WCS’ “Text-to-Give” program will be open until September 30, and donors can text up to six times. Donations to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market Vendor Relief Fund are accepted at www.kwcf.ca/SJFMvendorrelief.

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