From One Mom and Her Daughter to a National Organization
Lasagna Love is a pandemic compassion story – where one person helps another and it catches on. It all started small in Rhiannon Menn’s kitchen as she and her daughter made an extra few lasagnas for neighbors. That idea of sharing and supporting and giving soon spread.
We spoke with the founder of Lasagna Love, Rhiannon Menn and an active volunteer, Lynn Hirsch. Both bring very interesting perspectives and inspiration.
Here’s Rhiannon and Lynn:
“Trade your expectations for appreciation of what is. This belief has helped me to get through COVID with positivity. I think if we’re able to find gratitude, if we’re able to see possibility instead of focusing on what we’ve lost or what we wish we had… that changes everything. “
—Rhiannon Menn, Founder, Lasagna Love
Cooking Up Love and Support
What is Lasagna Love?
Lasagna Love was started at the beginning of the pandemic, when I was looking for a way to help moms in my community. We started making and delivering meals to families in the neighborhood who were struggling, whether that struggle was financial, emotional, or simply a feeling of overwhelm.
Lasagna Love has since grown into a national movement, with thousands of people all cooking and delivering meals to families in their communities. What we do is simple: feed families, spread kindness, and strengthen communities. Our mission is not only to help address the incredible rise in food insecurity among families, but also to provide a simple act of love and kindness during a time full of uncertainty and stress.
Rhiannon, you are the founder of Lasagna Love. What inspired its creation during the pandemic?
I started Lasagna Love (found here) – by accident – in April towards the beginning of the pandemic. It was a way for me to deal with feeling helpless. I was watching moms around me lose jobs, lose childcare, and try to navigate everything that was going on – and it was stressful!
Us moms don’t often ask for help, even when we could really, really use it. Instead of focusing on what we had lost, I focused on what we had: time, groceries, and a love of cooking. So, my daughter, Cimorene, and I started making extra meals, and I would post in moms groups on Facebook asking if anyone could use a free home-cooked meal delivery, completely contactless.
“We’ve delivered meals in 47 states, to over 8000 families. It’s still just bananas to me!
But that’s how it went from just me and my daughter to an actual organization.”
—Rhiannon Menn, Founder, Lasagna Love
How did you go from cooking a few extra lasagna’s at home into a national organization?
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one feeling helpless, because in addition to messages from moms taking me up on my offer, I got some moms also asking if they could help cook. We grew from there, completely organically. Someone saw a post, someone heard about a friend doing it, and now we have over 4000 volunteers across the country.
What are your goals for Lasagna Love over the next 5 years?
Lasagna Love will continue to provide home-cooked meal deliveries for as long as there are people struggling. We’ve had requests from people in Canada and the UK to expand there, and we’ve had interest in expanding beyond bringing neighbors meals. We’ll have to see where the next few years take us, but so long as there are people wanting to cook for their neighbors, we will be here to connect them.
What inspires you about Lasagna Love, Rhiannon?
For me, I’m inspired just knowing that I’ve made life a little easier for a family, even just for one night. That feeling of helping – it fills me up. They call it the “helper’s high” and it’s called that for a reason! I think this is true for a lot of volunteers.
But more than just the feeling of doing something good, I’ve learned a lot of our volunteers were feeling purposeless or like they just needed to do something and didn’t know what. So many volunteer opportunities have shut down, so it can be hard to find something that feels meaningful and easy and safe. But making a meal and delivering it to a neighbor’s porch? That checks all the boxes.
Can you give me an example of the way you’ve seen your efforts make a difference?
We have thousands of stories.
A mom in San Diego: her husband lost his job, and she’s a doula in a climate where hospitals will no longer permit extra people in the delivery room. She’s also in grad school. They have a 2 year old daughter and are barely making ends meet. Lasagna Love not only helped them put dinner on the table a couple of times, but it also showed them that there are strangers out there looking out for them and willing to help when they need it.
A mom of six who’s landlord kicked them out when she couldn’t make rent due to COVID-related job loss. A Lasagna Mama not only brought her a hot meal for that day, but also bags of non-perishable groceries to get them through a couple of days while they figure out what to do next.
A woman who just lost her husband to COVID. The local Lasagna Love leader was able to coordinate meal drop offs to her just about every week while she struggles with her heartbreak.
A mom who was trying to figure out how to afford dinner for her daughter’s 6th birthday. Instead of sending her a lasagna, we ordered entrees from her daughter’s favorite restaurant and had it delivered for her birthday dinner.
We have a Lasagna Mama who, since June, has lost both her parents. She says “still I cook. I cook because we must help others. I cook because even though I’m broken inside, people are hungry and need help and are worse off than we are. I cook because I’m a healer. I cook because cooking heals me.”
“As the months since March dragged on, I knew that I needed to find a meaningful and kindness-centered focus in my life. When I saw the story about Lasagna Love on the Today Show, I knew that I had to be part of this group. I’m fortunate to have my health and the means to help others..”
—Lynn Hirsch, Volunteer, Lasagna Love
Lynn, as a volunteer, how has Lasagna Love affected you?
Cooking and delivering meals for local families has been as much of a gift to me as it has helped the lovely people for whom I have provided a meal. It is so important during this difficult time that we each know that others care about us and our needs. Thanks to Lasagna Love, I have a wonderful new focus in my life.
Lynn, what do you personally spend most of your time doing for Lasagna Love?
I signed up and became a full fledged Lasagna Mama on October 10. Each week, I am matched with families in my area who could benefit from a little TLC in the form of a meal. They have requested a meal or have been nominated by a friend or family member. The need might be financial, but medical and emotional needs are just as critical.
We are now reaching out to healthcare professionals, first responders and teachers who are under greater stress than ever because of the pandemic. During this holiday time, Lasagna Love hopes to ease the stress and bring some joy to the families that are served as well as to the volunteers.
The volunteer army has grown exponentially since the Today Show segment so it has been necessary to do outreach in each of our communities to encourage our neighbors to feel comfortable enough to request meals. We know the need is there but Lasagna Love has not reached the larger population.
I’ve spent many hours contacting schools, public safety departments, healthcare facilities, news outlets and posting on social media. There were weeks that I had to make deliveries 25 miles away because my neighbors were not aware of our presence. Happily, this is beginning to change!
What participation in this group has provided to me is so much more than my act of sharing meals with my neighbors. I have found a kind sisterhood and a focus to my week. I look forward to receiving an email on Tuesday mornings alerting me about my matches for the week. The planning, communicating with the family, shopping, cooking and delivering have gotten me off the couch, out of the house and have given me a purpose.
Each week I spend hours on these tasks with the culmination being the contactless and masked delivery of a meal prepared with love.
“I knew we were having an impact on our recipient families, but I didn’t realize the impact we were having on our volunteers until they started sharing stories of feeling isolated and depressed until they found Lasagna Love. Hearing these stories week after week – that’s truly inspiring.”
—Rhiannon, Founder, Lasagna Love
How has Lasagna Love improved or evolved over time, Rhiannon?
Well, we’ve gotten a whole lot bigger, so we’re able to reach thousands of families each week instead of dozens! We also have a fantastic group of volunteer leaders that have stepped up, making our organization much stronger. We’ve improved our back end systems to match volunteers and families, and to just generally run our day to day operations.
What are some areas of opportunity for your organization? How can readers get involved?
We are always looking for more Lasagna Mamas and Papas who want to cook for families in their communities. So if you like to cook – join us!
We’re also just starting to build out a lot of new capabilities – a new portal website for our volunteers to use, a Lasagna Love store so people can spread the Lasagna Love and support families, and we’re considering an adopt-a-family matching for the holidays… If you don’t have time (or don’t like) to cook but love our mission, reach out. There are plenty of ways to get involved.
Volunteer or request a meal on our website
Rhiannon, is there anything that you wish more people knew about Lasagna Love?
Lasagna Love isn’t just about delivering home-cooked meals to families who are struggling.
It’s about normalizing asking for help. Especially for moms, who often feel like they have to do it all themselves. This comes from my own experience when I became a mom. The more we say it’s ok to ask, the more that becomes a habit. I think this can go a long way towards changing the narrative around what motherhood means.
It’s about building a community that inspires its members to be truly zero-judgement. You can drive up to a nice house with fancy cars in the driveway to deliver a lasagna, or you can deliver to a single mom with six kids on the brink of homelessness. There’s zero judgement in either case. We never have the full story. We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s a change for a lot of our volunteers, but they’re embracing the change. That’s powerful.
And, it’s about truly scaling kindness. When we deliver a meal it doesn’t just have an impact in that moment. Our recipient families are then inspired to help those around them. Some are inspired to figure out how to become Lasagna Mamas! Kindness has a network effect… and that’s how, ultimately, we’re strengthening communities.
And finally… Pie, Cake or Ice Cream?
Today? Apple pie. Yesterday? Limoncello ice cream. But never cake. Unless it’s flourless chocolate cake with raspberry coulis and whipped cream. Then cake all day every day.
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