CALGARY -- A partnership between the Calgary Food Bank and Meals on Wheels is maintaining school nutrition programs even while classrooms are closed due to the COVId-19 pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19, Calgary Meals on Wheels delivered lunches to nearly 6,000 Calgary students though in school programs.

The Calgary Food Bank food bank also ran a program in schools called Weekends and More, supplying students with a three day hamper that would fit discreetly into a backpack so they could take it home.

When schools shut down there were concerns many of those students would not receive adequate nutrition in the absence of those programs.

The two groups have partnered — using Meals on Wheels distribution expertise and the Calgary Food Banks supply chain — to continue the Weekends and More program outside of schools.

“So Meals on Wheels has a distribution system. They know where they're going with their meal programs for schools.” said James McAra.

"We've got product that we know we can redesign, so we just said, ‘let's just do it this way.’ So getting together and making the best of all worlds."

The Weekends and More Program was created in 2014 to provide nutritional support to chronically hungry students during the school year.

Calgary Coop is suppling food for the program through its ongoing partnership with the Food Bank.

Meals on Wheels has secure distribution locations, one at Southcentre mall and a new one, opening this week, at the Genesis centre in northeast Calgary.

"We really wanted to get this out as soon as we possibly could, so that these vulnerable populations weren't left without that nutritional base that we were offering in schools," said Allie Acker with Meals on Wheels.

The program has the capacity to supply about 600 families with a three-day hamper of food for each student. By Monday, just under 400 had signed up to receive the curbside service.

“It really is awareness that it has been, our numbers have been lower lately. We started pushing this out on social media and having our partners share it as well. And in the last week, we've seen tremendous growth" said Acker.

“We know the needs out there. We keep hearing that it's out there. And so we're sure that we will reach our capacity."

The Food Bank CEO also expects the demand to grow as word of the program gets out .

“Maybe it's only 380 this week, maybe next week it’s 450. Maybe it's 600 after that," said McAra.

“We have to start somewhere and the word will then spread like wildfire.”

The Weekends and More program is available to all school-aged child from Kindergarten to Grade 12 in Calgary.

Safe pickup is available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and 12:30 to 3 p.m. at Southcentre Mall and the Genesis Centre. Hampers are packaged by volunteers and then distributed at designated outdoor pickup points. Families are asked to sign up at least 24 hours in advance to secure a pickup time, either online or by phone.

More information on the Weekends and More program can be found here.