The Heartfelt Way People Are Strengthening Their Communities with Lasagna

published Nov 18, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, California mom Rhiannon Menn was searching for a way to bring some love to her community. Neighbors were struggling through pandemic-related woes like job losses and just a lot of general fear, so Menn decided on a solution to take some of the weight off their shoulders: Bake them lasagna.

That simple act of making a neighbor lasagna and delivering it to their doorstep launched a thriving nonprofit called Lasagna Love. Through the organization, a group of more than 35,000 volunteers bake lasagnas for neighbors in every U.S. state, Australia, and Canada. They currently deliver 2,500 to 3,500 lasagnas each week.

Credit: Lynn Hirsch/Lasagna Love
Rhiannon Menn and her daughter

Here’s how it works: Families in need sign up privately on the Lasagna Love website to receive a meal with no questions asked. The family is matched with a Lasagna Chef, who then prepares a lasagna (according to the family’s dietary needs and availability) and delivers it to their door — contactless and for free. If you want to be a Lasagna Chef, you can sign up on the website, then you’ll go through a quick training to discuss food safety. Being a volunteer is flexible; you do it on your own schedule and at your own pace.

“Our volunteers make lasagnas because cooking is ‘love made visible,’” says Lynn Hirsch, Lasagna Love’s outreach director and northwest Georgia local leader. “The time and effort that go into making and delivering a lasagna can be a heartwarming and fulfilling experience for the chef. It’s more than just cooking a meal. For our recipients as well, the lasagna can be more than just a meal. It can renew their faith in those around them — knowing that a stranger cared enough to provide them with a homemade dish. The food might fill their bellies and their souls and, many times, encourages them to pay it forward.”

Hirsch has delivered lasagnas to a wide range of people, including a family where both parents were sick with Covid and two daughters under 10 were taking care of them; single seniors craving a warm meal; and a family whose young child was in chemotherapy.

“It is important to remember that need varies from family to family,” Hirsch says. “A warm meal helps whether the need is financial, emotional, or health-related. We are trying to eliminate the stigma of asking for help when it is needed the most.”

Credit: Lynn Hirsch/Lasagna Love

The most popular lasagna styles requested, according to Shari Lyn DiBrito, Lasagna Love’s operations special projects director, are the traditional ones — meat and cheese. But they also offer vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and more diet-customized versions. Lasagna Chefs are provided with recipes, but they’re able to make their own versions as well. Some chefs offer to make other warm and hearty meals in addition to the lasagna.

DiBrito’s first deliveries were to motels where people with government assistance live, who would be homeless otherwise. 

“You take for granted what a hot meal means,” she says. “It is easy for me to make a meal and pop it in the oven for dinner and not have to worry about storing leftovers. These deliveries open my eyes to a whole new set of challenges that people within neighboring communities are experiencing. As I have continued to make deliveries over the past two years, I have touched lives, yes. But mine has also been touched, [helping me] to be more compassionate. While not every need is financial, everyone needs kindness.”