Once a week throughout the coronavirus pandemic, a certain member of the Royal Family has been quietly putting on a chef’s uniform, hat, mask and gloves and getting to work.
Sophie, Countess of Wessex has joined the ranks of volunteers from the catering trade, party organizers and others in helping to keep essential workers in the healthcare industry fed.
Sophie, 55, has lent a hand, helping to supply various hospitals around the London area with food — sometimes by making spaghetti or packing goods.
“The Countess has visited various kitchens on a weekly basis and has been involved in the preparation of the food, the cooking of the food and the packing of the food. She has been involved in the process all the way along," says Sophie's friend Peregrine Armstrong-Jones, owner of the party planning business Bentley’s Entertainment.
“Sophie’s literally been involved in everything that goes on in the kitchen so the nurses can eat," Armstrong-Jones tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.
“When she leaves our kitchens she generally then goes on to do more projects in different hospitals. She just pops up in different places and just does things.”
The gesture is one of many the Queen's daughter-in-law has displayed amid the pandemic. She's also volunteered at local food banks near her home in Surrey, which she shares with husband Prince Edward and their two children, and delivered parcels to those who are homeless. During one shift, she even photographed a fellow volunteer at a mosque for Kate Middleton’s portrait project.
When Sophie volunteered at the Hope Hub in Camberley, "she wanted to try and help in a low-key, personal, informative way," Mags Mercer, chief executive of Hope Hub, tells PEOPLE. "She was lovely, down-to-earth and had a very good understanding and was well-informed and genuinely very interested. She really did get stuck in and help us prepare food parcels – and delivered five herself.”
“You wouldn’t necessarily recognize her and wouldn’t expect someone like that to be delivering your food parcels. It was even nicer really that it wasn’t being done for the recognition but because she could genuinely help," Mercer adds.
“Afterwards, when we told the clients, they were blown away. They would say things like, ‘Oh no, I looked terrible that day,’ or ‘Wow, that’s amazing. How kind,” recalls Mercer.
Can't get enough of PEOPLE's Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!
For more on Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and how she is seen as the royal family's secret weapon, pick up a copy of this week's issue of PEOPLE on newsstands on Friday
A friend of the Countess -- who also spent some time at the Lighthouse foodbank in Woking -- tells PEOPLE she remains humble when it comes to interest in her work.
“She would be greatly discomfited by being elevated as being some kind of special person as I don’t think she sees herself as like that at all," the friend says. "I think that she and Edward are both quietly just trying to support the Queen’s role.”