It hosts a program where bicycles are fixed and repurposed for migrant workers.
It hosts free schools where participants are taught skills such as Irish step dancing, or bicycle maintenance, or how to play the guitar.
It’s a space for art projects, and free movie nights, and programs where community members serve free sandwiches in Montebello Park.
The InfoShop hosted by Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at Brock is a hub for resources and public education, and a meeting place for a myriad of community organizations in downtown St. Catharines. And last month, it narrowly escaped closure.
A recent OPIRG fundraiser recently saw $10,000 raised during its Save the InfoShop campaign. The money allows OPIRG to keep a downtown location (currently at 10 Summer St.), which was in doubt two months ago. Enough money was raised by July 1 to keep the InfoShop open.
“We feel incredible,” said Lisa Kretz, organizational, volunteer and research co-ordinator with OPIRG Brock. “Most of all, we’re excited that we get to keep this kind of programming going in downtown St. Catharines and continue to play an essential role in the community. We’re excited to see how it develops.”
Formed in 1988, Brock’s OPIRG group is one of 11 chapters in Ontario. Dedicated to social justice and environmental issues, its board members and supporters include Brock students, faculty and staff. The organization is supported in part by student funding. Several members of the Brock community also regularly donate.
The InfoShop opened a year ago. The board saw the need for an outreach office in downtown St. Catharines, Kretz said, as well as a way to serve a vulnerable downtown population.
OPIRG met its fundraising goal through various fundraisers, including a Save the InfoShop music festival in June and a pARTners for change event in the fall, when Brock’s Visual Arts department and community members donated works for auction.
Laurie Morrison, head of liaison services at the James A. Gibson Library, was one of several Brock faculty and staff who gave generously to the campaign. In fact, it was Morrison’s donation that took the group to its goal.
“As an undergraduate and graduate student, I experienced the work OPIRG does,” she said. “I hated the thought of losing that space. We need that kind of presence in downtown St. Catharines.”
The shop is a space as organic and eclectic as OPIRG Brock itself. It has mismatched furniture and local art on the walls. On tables near the front door are flyers and postcards advertising local entertainment and social justice events. A bookshelf near the back holds donated books for prisoners. The room rarely looks the same way for long, Kretz said.
“This room changes so much on any given day,” she said. “You walk in one day and it’s filled with bikes. Another day, there’s a board meeting happening. On another, there will be a film showing.
“It’s a fundamentally unique space. It fills a niche that needs filling, and that isn’t being filled by any other organization.”