What the world needs now is... Lasagna Love
It all started with a post in a Facebook mom’s group.
It was late last March, and the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to upend life as we knew it. Rhiannon Menn, a mom of two living in San Diego, was feeling helpless.
"There were so many moms that I knew who had lost childcare, who had lost jobs. They were just feeling stressed out. And so literally one day, I was just like, I'm gonna make extra meals,” she told TODAY. Then, she typed out a message on social media: "If there are any mamas here that have lost income due to coronavirus, or who can't get to the grocery store because they/their babies are immunocompromised and you need food, my toddler and I are making some extra lasagnas this weekend to drop off to anyone who needs them."
Menn had no idea how much of an impact those few trays of cheesy comfort food would have. But the idea of helping people cope with crisis through a simple homemade meal resonated with people, and soon, people on social media began reaching out not just to receive a meal, but offering to make them,, too.
Quickly, the endeavor snowballed, catching on in kitchens across the country. By May, Lasagna Love was born.
Ten months and 15,000 lasagnas later, Lasagna Love is now a registered nonprofit powered by 6,000 “lasagna mamas and papas” (volunteer chefs) in 47 states. They make and deliver around 1,000 meals a week; an effort that feeds more than hungry bellies. At a time when so many are missing -- and craving -- connection, the homemade meals are providing sustenance in many forms.
“Lasagna Love’s umbrella mission tenets are to feed families, spread kindness and strengthen community,” said volunteer Lasagna Mama Wendy Agudelo. “Connecting neighbors with neighbors through meal delivery not only puts a dent in food insecurity, it allows volunteers to know to whom their efforts are being invested, and recipients, who is sharing kindness.”
The group has local leaders, who are also volunteers, that match volunteer chefs up with local requests for meals. When a lasagna mama or papa in an area is matched with a request, they text the recipient to coordinate a delivery.
Regional leader Johanna Georgilas, a mom of two from Holliston who first got involved as a volunteer chef over the summer, said she is currently making about 10 matches per week in the towns of Holliston, Hopkinton, Westborough, Southborough, Northborough, Ashland, Upton, Grafton, North Grafton, Whitinsville, Northbridge, Sutton, and Douglas. She reads each family’s story when a request comes in, and said it’s been eye opening to find that “need” comes in many forms.
“I knew before this the challenges family face, but it’s just opened my eyes to the different challenges,” she said. “Sometimes it’s an overwhelmed parent that needs a break, a death or severe illness in the family, lack of food resources, a new parent, a job lost.”
For many lasagna mamas and papas, it’s been surprising at times to see how close those needs are to home. Georgilas said in one case, a lasagna mama prepared a meal for a family who happened to live in the same apartment complex she did.
“The need is right in every community,” said Georgilas. “It quite literally can be your neighbor.”
Lasagna Love also aims to normalize asking for help, which is something that doesn’t always come easily. Every day there more families signing up who need help, and also more lasagna mamas and papas volunteering to cook.
For both recipients and chefs, it’s become a movement beyond food. In San Diego, when a struggling family with both parents out of work requested a lasagna as a nice meal to celebrate their 4-year-old’s birthday, they were surprised with not just dinner, but also fresh vegetables, canned foods, and birthday gifts for the little girl. In Central Florida, the free meal was the catalyst that brought a local family together with an isolated, elderly neighbor.
“I like to think I’m spreading kindness one lasagna at a time,” said Margie White, a regional leader who lives in Shrewsbury. “During this pandemic I’m sure it is providing a break to some, a lifeline to others. But always kindness.”
Volunteering for Lasagna Love can be as big or as little a commitment as one would like. Volunteers choose how often they want to cook, from a one-time thing to a weekly or monthly pledge. Volunteers also choose their delivery area in miles.
The group is also working on outreach to get homemade meals to deserving people in the community. Recently, Georgilas was coordinating a drop off of lasagnas, salad and bread to a local police department.
“The list of those who could benefit from what we do goes on and on. Someone impacted financially by the pandemic, a front-line worker, first responders, teachers, parents working from home along with their kids doing remote learning and needing a break from getting dinner on the table,” said White. “The important thing is to let them know someone cares.”