Story published by Shirley Ruhe, Arlington Connection

Chef Glen Jahnsen assembles fresh hamburgers, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower donated by La Cocina through the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization to the Homeless Meal Program during the pandemic shutdown.

Get your neighbors or family together, purchase your supply of brown paper lunch bags and look for weekly sales on deli meats and cheese. The A-SPAN Homeless Bagged Meal Program (HBMP) will be back in operation on April 1.

When Covid-19 hit in March 2020, HBMP was suspended. Before the pandemic, A-SPAN had 4,000 volunteers putting in 15,000 volunteer hours to serve 50,000 meals a year. Scott Miller, senior director of development, says March 13, 2020, A-SPAN staff started teleworking and they put Plan B in place.

“The kitchen put restrictions on outside food coming in, and the homeless bag meal program was suspended.”

The homeless bagged meal program became a completely staff-driven effort. Instead of serving bagged meals and hot dinners which had been prepared by volunteers for delivery to several locations, the homeless clients were redirected to the Homeless Services Center at 2020A 14th Street N. This was a short walk or bike ride from St George’s Episcopal Church or Clarendon where the meals had been handed out in the past. The meals were switched to single to-go containers prepared by the homeless bagged meal program chef and staff.

Miller explains that during this time the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization stepped in to partner with La Cocina restaurant to deliver really nice hot meals every Wednesday for the homeless bagged meal program.

“Our food budget was so stretched and our volunteer base gone.” He says food expenses skyrocketed, and a lot of faith-based organizations continued to support A-SPAN by translating dollars into food.”

Now with the partial opening of volunteer opportunities, safety protocols will allow acceptance of donated bagged meals and prepared meals starting April 1. At present only A-SPAN staff will be allowed to serve onsite but volunteer opportunities will return as safety protocols allow.

For this “purchase and prepare” program, volunteers sign up for a slot on the website and purchase enough food to prepare 50 bagged meals. Directions for each brown paper bag: two sandwiches (no pork), two snack items (one savory and one sweet), one piece of soft fruit and a water or fruit juice beverage. Once the food has been prepared, it should be delivered to the Homeless Services Center between 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.

Porter Lesiv, the new A-SPAN Administrative Coordinator and the go-to person for everything volunteer related, says the new process for volunteering was posted March 18 and she already had a handful of responses. “People were so excited to be back volunteering again.” For more information about the program contact or (703) 228-7815.

The bagged meal program began in 1988 when Lori Rinker, an Arlington resident, saw the food challenges in Arlington and started serving food to the homeless with her neighbors.

After a while they could see there was a bigger challenge, and A-SPAN was born.

Today A-SPAN has grown to include a Homeless Services Center, which offers sleeping arrangements for over 80 people per night (55 shelter beds, five medical respite beds, and 25 additional beds from November – March during hypothermia season), provides three meals daily, showers, laundry facilities, and access to case managers and medical services.