As Calgary hits the first stretch of winter-like weather, staff and volunteers at the Alex Community Food Centre in Forest Lawn are shifting their food programs back indoors.
On Friday, Calgarians were able to start receiving bags of fresh food to bring home to their families as part of the Alex's weekly meals-to-go program.
Darrell Howard, food centre team lead, says in the warmer months the centre held programs outside, but as staff looked toward the future, they prepared a safe system indoors with health officials.
"We've taken some time to really think through how can we deliver programs safely inside our space versus outside," she said.
The shift now includes COVID-19 related safety measures like masks, temperature checks, distancing and crowd size limits.
"Right now, people have the opportunity to get meals once a week for their family and they can take that home," she said.
Howard says the bags of food includes fresh produce as well as meals made on-site for each member of the household.
"We have what are called the good food principles and we want to make sure that when people have a meal here it's healthy, it's nutrient dense and that it is delicious."
She says that prior to the pandemic, the centre held community meals that typically brought in up to 180 people. Since switching to meals-to-go, that number has increased to around 400.
Combating social isolation
When the pandemic hit, Howard says, they prioritized emergency food response, but after talking to community members, they've decided to also provide support to combat social isolation.
"This place is really a community hub that draws people in and connects neighbour to neighbour and friends to friends," she said.
The staff are hoping to see more of their food and community-based programs come back online in the months ahead.
As well, Howard would like to see some food skill programs be offered to small, in-person groups.
"We'll continue to learn from it and make enhancements and really bring back that community vibe inside that we had outside," she said.
"What's just as important is the connection that people feel to a place like this, their peers, their friends. And so we're really mindful of being able to keep this running regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in this winter," she said.