Arlington, VA

(Updated at 8:35 a.m.) The line wrapped around the church, dozens of people deep. One woman waited 45 minutes and still hadn’t reached the front of the building while a volunteer lapped the church, passing out water to those waiting in the sticky heat.

On Wednesday morning in the Green Valley neighborhood, Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church (2700 19th Street S.) again teamed up with D.C.-based celebrity chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen to serve meals to those in need. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the church has seen the number of families it helps grow.

In the past, families would gather inside Father Ray Hall for treats and coffee. There were around 200 families that would participate, and the gatherings created a close community feel. Since then the number of families has increased to an average of 630, and the indoor gatherings have moved outside in order to comply with social distancing guidelines.

On Wednesday, World Central Kitchen served more than 3,580 meals to those in need at the church.

This is the second time the nonprofit and the church has worked together. The first time was on May 22 when 3,200 meals were served.

“I heard that it was very good. They really enjoyed having something… it’s like having a restaurant come to them,” said Sally Diaz-Wells, the church’s social justice and outreach minister.

The church normally holds weekly food drives on Wednesdays, gathering groceries and commonly needed food items such as bread, meat, and cheese, as well as shelf-stable items like pasta, beans and mac and cheese for the kids.

“We try to have low-sugar foods and high-protein foods in each of our bags,” said Diaz-Wells.

To provide a safe experience on Wednesday, the church placed 6-foot markers on the sidewalk in front of the building to guide people with social distancing. Organizers also ensured contactless pickup by placing the bags on chairs 6 feet away from both the entrance to the building and the rest of the line, and calling recipients forward when it was their turn. They also offered masks and required 100 percent mask-wearing.

Those interested in donating food to the church find a list of items on its website. Financial donations are also accepted.

Diaz-Wells emphasized the importance of the staff’s health to keep the food drives running each week.

“We’ve been blessed. We’ve been healthy and safe since the beginning,” she said.

Photo by Jay Westcott

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