WHEN St Mary's Catholic College Gateshead faced the possible closure of their canteen due to students learning from home, staff did something that may have been unexpected: they started cooking.
Minestrone soup, haloumi pea fritters, roast beef and lasagna at first, as well as salads and peach cobbler.
Instead of preparing lunches for students,they opened the drive-through Ready To Serve cafe,preparing healthy takeaway dinners for staff and families who were under pressure due to COVID-19 and juggling working from home, supervising children, job losses and trips to the supermarket.
Ministry coordinator De-anna Addicoat said the response was overwhelming, with families signing up and expressing their gratitude and relief.
"This was about how to best care for our community at that time," she said.
"It was about celebration - it was like the whole school community was sitting around one big family table all enjoying our family meal."
The school community has purchased 463 meals so far, as well as donated $1500- including $300 in the first day -for meals to be paid forward to families in need.
About half of the donated funds has already been spent on 71 meals that were delivered to families, with more to come.
"They were joyous in receiving them and grateful they were part of this wonderful community," Ms Addicoat said.
"They didn't feel it was a hand out, but a hand up. It was just family reaching out to family - they weren't alone, we're all in this together."
Principal Larry Keating's secretary Debbie Carter said the idea was born from a concern that canteen supervisor of seven years Deb Tserepas may lose her job and salary, which is based on sales.
"There was a meeting between myself, Larry, [food technology support and hospitality support] Christine Shaw and Deb to see what we can do and put ideas out there and it snowballed."
Mr Keating said Ms Tserepas was a "valued" employee and their "pastoral instincts kicked in".
"I made a commitment to her that we would honour her wage and there would be no reduction in her salary, so our challenge then was coming up with the means of covering her salary."
Ms Shaw said she spent three days formulating a menu that would change every week during term two.
The first week of term was spent working out the cost of menu items and organising ingredient labels and the Qkr! app, which would allow staff and families to order and pay for the meals online.
Meals were available from May 4.
Ms Shaw, Ms Tserepas and Michelle Russell cooked in the school's hospitality kitchen and families were able to pick up meals from the school's kiss and ride zone in the afternoon.
Staff were also able to purchase meals in-person from the school cafe, which temporarily expanded its operating hours from Thursday mornings to full time.
While the school has scaled down the operation this week, demand is still strong and students can pick up meals in person.
Staff prepared 50 serves this week and will move to 70 next week.
The pay it forward initiative will continue.