TORONTO -- Across the world, the food industry has taken a hard hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, causing restaurants to serve delivery only or shut down their business altogether. But a restaurant in the U.S. capital is staying open for those who need it the most.

Little Sesame, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in Washington, D.C., is one of about 20 restaurants in the city serving free meals to families affected by the economic shutdown.

An estimated 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment aid, and as that number continues to rise, the demand for a hot meal has never been more imperative. 

Little Sesame manager Ron Even told CTV News he feels lucky to still have his job, and wants to use this opportunity to help those who weren’t able to have the same outcome. In collaboration with the non-profit organization Dreaming Out Loud, their “Meals for the City” program will donate a meal for every $10 gift card purchased. 

While the restaurant is known for serving hummus bowls and pita sandwiches, the chefs are cooking up more hearty meals that include rice, beans and smoked turkey. 

The Little Sesame staff cook up more than 700 meals a day to feed families such as Kim Philips and her children. Philips is a single mother of two has become a regular customer to the program after she lost her job because of the pandemic. 

“It turned into a disaster situation where there is zero income in my household. I’m in a frenzy, I’m nervous, I’m panicking but, coming here every day getting the meals is truly a blessing,” she said. 

With hundreds of families lining up at the restaurant’s drive-through stations, all meals prepared for the day are gone in less than hour. 

According to Feeding America, an average of 37 million Americans struggle with hunger. However, with the pandemic, Maddy Beckwith, the restaurant’s media spokesperson, says the demand for feeding families is at an all-time high, causing food banks across the U.S. struggling to keep up. 

“When schools close and people are out of work there’s already a pretty deep need for food …and the need is somewhat greater than food banks can serve,” Beckwith said. 

The U.S. has seen the highest amount of confirmed cases across the world: more than one million in total, and more than 56,000 deaths.