The Washington Nationals have teamed up with chef José Andrés’s global nonprofit to utilize D.C.’s empty professional baseball stadium as a place to cook and distribute thousands of free meals to residents in need during the novel coronavirus crisis.

Under its city-owned lease, Nationals Park is supposed to be used for sports and entertainment only, but the city signed off on a plan led by World Central Kitchen and the team’s newly established charity arm, Nationals Philanthropies (formerly the Dream Foundation).

Two large kitchens at the park will be used to prepare hot meals that will be delivered to communities by Uber Eats drivers. One facility is typically reserved for suites, catering, and concessions. The other, PNC Diamond Club kitchen, normally makes food for big-ticket fans. It’s outfitted with six-burner ranges and all the culinary bells and whistles.

Nationals Philanthropies will work with its community partners to get dinners to public housing in the Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront neighborhoods as well as the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Fort Dupont. The recipient list is expected to grow with the help of Southwest BID, along with people in underserved Ward 7 and Ward 8, and homeless populations from around the city.

“We are stewards of this public building — it’s not used to play baseball now, so how can we use it in the best way possible?” says Jonathan Stahl, vice president of experience and hospitality for the Nationals.

The first 1,000 meals go out today. By the end of the week, production is expected to ramp up to 5,000 meals a day. Eventually, the operation at Nationals Park aims to dish out tens of thousands of meals each day.

From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, staff perform a choreographed dance of prepping, cooking, and packaging meals into insulated containers, along with wrapped utensils and fruit, that will then go to drivers waiting at a loading dock. Nationals Park employees, partners from concessions company Levy, and WCK staff and volunteers all collaborate. Food and packaging shipments roll in from large vendors like Sysco and Acme Paper.

Nationals park is empty while the coronavirus outbreak delays the start of baseball season
Nationals park is empty while the coronavirus outbreak delays the start of baseball season
 Win McNamee/Getty Images

WCK’s Penn Quarter headquarters have been used to prep meals until now. The nonprofit approached the Nationals about a week ago, pitching the idea to use the stadium as a community kitchen to meet the growing demand in the region. The stadium is uniquely suited to perform large-scale food production, and it’s located in the heart of an at-risk community that could benefit from the meals.

“Partnering with WCK was a no-brainer,” Stahl says. “Our operations here are consolidated — we have very large kitchens and a lot of fire power where we can produce a lot of food quickly and efficiently.”

Tuesday’s meal is a chicken and broccoli stir-fry with cilantro rice and toasted sesame. Later this week, people will get a plate of beef fajitas with roasted peppers and onions, garlic rice, and black beans.

Nationals Philanthropies seeded a new $100,000 fund to provide grants to third party entities equipped to feed need during the current crisis. So far, it’s contributed $25,000 to Mid-Atlantic Food Access and Resilience Coalition, led by 4P Foods, and $15,000 to Martha’s Table. Donations from fans, corporations, foundations, and Nationals personnel and players are pouring in fast. As of Monday, the fund hit $256,000.

WCK is a well-oiled machine when it comes to feeding the masses, starting with Hurricane Maria victims in 2017 — a feat documented in Andrés’s book We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time.

Stahl says Andrés has been a regular presence at the park to ensure “everything is done to the specifics of WCK.”

When the coronavirus hit, Andrés’s WCK team reacted quickly. In addition making meals for passengers and crew quarantined on cruise ships and donating food to D.C. firefighters, the humanitarian chef just pledged free meals to nurses and doctors for the rest of the year via his NYC and D.C. restaurants. WCK is also one of the initial partners for America’s Food Fund, a GoFundMe account that launched with $12 million in contributions from Leonardo DiCaprio, Laurene Powell Jobs and Apple, and the Ford Foundation.

Major League Baseball has delayed Opening Day, originally set for March 26, to at least mid-May. The league is exploring options to save the season with the players’ association this week. That includes potentially moving every team to Arizona and playing games in empty ballparks.