Few things warm the soul like a homecooked meal. In a year that finds many of us needing a little more comfort, a special army of volunteers is making a big difference, one casserole dish at a time.
It’s a movement called Lasagna Love, connecting neighbors through the simple joy of comfort food. First featured on the Today Show in September, the idea that started in one San Diego, California mom’s kitchen has grown nationwide. Now the organization is seeking more volunteer cooks in Connecticut.
Photos: Lasagna Love: Warming Hearts & Bellies in CT
Early on in the pandemic, after stay-at-home orders were mandated, Rhiannon Menn was struggling to find purpose — until she realized she could use her cooking skills for good.
"Around April, I started feeling just super helpless," Menn said. "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 posted on a local moms Facebook group, offering up those extra meals. The response was overwhelming, and before she knew it, Menn had started a movement.
From seven lasagnas in her kitchen back in March, Lasagna Love has now grown to include volunteer cooks across the country baking and gifting over 8,000 lasagnas so far to neighbors in need.
It’s a straightforward system: Anyone in need can go to lasagnalove.org and request a lasagna through contactless delivery. Interested volunteers can sign up to cook and deliver. Volunteers and requesters are matched up based on geography.
Joy Delaney, of Simsbury, volunteers as a Lasagna Love regional leader for the Hartford area, where over 50 requests for meals are coming every week. With record unemployment and unprecedented numbers of people flocking to food pantries during the COVID-19 pandemic, she says the demand is only growing across the state. Recipients also include people who are quarantined or caring for a loved one.
“We've helped every single, you know, walk of life that you can think of, from essential workers to seniors who just can't leave their houses. So there's no stigma in asking for help,” said Delaney. “I definitely don't see it slowing down anytime soon, especially not through these winter months.”
That’s why Lasagna Love is looking for even more volunteers all across Connecticut, Delaney said, especially in areas where requests are currently outnumbering cooks, like Torrington, Winsted, Waterbury, New Haven and Bridgeport.
For volunteer Jennifer Linden of Simsbury, baking lasagnas has become a family affair, one that her young children especially enjoy helping with.
“I want to make sure that my children understand how important it is to give back,” Linden said, “and how something so little can make such a difference in somebody's life.”