Nonprofit gives Americans 100K free lasagnas – KIRO 7 News Seattle

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One recent summer morning, Lynn Hirsch was determined when she packed the back of her gray SUV with 20 aluminum pans of lasagna. The retiree had a mission: to drive nearly 70 miles from her suburb of Atlanta to two rural Georgia towns and get the hearty dishes into the hands of the people who needed them.

It’s an increasingly typical mission for volunteers from Lasagna Love – a grassroots nonprofit of 33,000 people across the country who share free lasagna with Americans struggling with financial and other challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The group is one of many charitable initiatives launched during the pandemic to help families fight hunger and pay for housing and other expenses.

In an average week, 69-year-old Hirsch makes and ships four lasagna near her home in Alpharetta, Georgia. But this time she wanted to do something else – help feed those in the Georgia cities of Chatsworth and Dalton who had requested meals but couldn’t get them due to a lack of volunteer cooks in their area. Frustrated with the need, Hirsch and other chefs volunteered to prepare the meals, which in part helped the nonprofit recently top 100,000 lasagna deliveries.

Meredith Niles, a professor at the University of Vermont who has studied the impact of the pandemic on food insecurity, says the nonprofit is “an amazing example of the generosity and ingenuity” that many people have shown to others during the pandemic to help. Many of the lasagna meals have brought solace to Americans facing health challenges or loneliness during the pandemic. Others were given to parents stressed out managing their children’s education from home or Americans mourning the death of a loved one from the coronavirus.

“When a family feels they need something, we’ll provide a meal,” said Hirsch, who also serves as Lasagna Love’s outreach director for Georgia and Mississippi. “No questions are asked, no judgments are made.”

While more Americans are getting vaccinated and getting back to work, the nonprofit persist in offering a reassuring plate of lasagna. It’s shifting from COVID-minded to kindness, say the organization’s leaders, and aims to attract additional volunteers so more families can have home-cooked meals.

“We have a lot of people going back to work so they may not need financial support,” said Shari DiBrito, Lasagna Loves regional director in New Jersey. “But now they’re overworked because they’re back to work. These people just need kindness. You just need a helping hand. “

“Let us help you,” she added. “Let’s bring you a lasagna.”

Lasagna Love’s roots go back to April 2020 in San Diego, California. Rhiannon Menn, a 38-year-old mother of three who owns a design and construction company, was looking for ways to help her community when the pandemic brought her family’s business to a standstill. There weren’t many ways to get personally involved, so she made seven trays of lasagna and asked a local Facebook mothers group if anyone wanted something to eat.

Seven families accepted her offer and others asked how they could help. Ten people signed up to volunteer that month, and then 50 more followed as this spread on social media. By October, Lasagna Love had amassed 500 volunteers – originally called Lasagna Mamas and Papas – in nearly a dozen states.

Menn, who now lives in Kihei, Hawaii, says the organization went viral “completely by accident.”

Once a volunteer signs up, they’ll be matched with someone in their area who requests lasagna, including vegan or dairy-free versions of the dish. Menn chose the Italian dish because multiple pans could be cooked at once in an assembly line style and the ingredients were readily available. Each volunteer has their own recipe, but some have started offering other meals, such as southern Creole dishes, as well as chicken, rice, and beans.

“It just shows that there were so many people in the beginning who really, really wanted to help their neighbors and didn’t know how to do it or how to do it safely,” said Menn. “And they saw this and used Lasagna Love as an opportunity to really make a meaningful impact on their communities.”

While admirable, experts note that nonprofits alone are unable to meet existing needs: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, around 13.7 million U.S. households suffered from food insecurity in 2019. What nonprofits can do is fill an important niche by helping people who may not want or have access to government assistance, said Niles of the University of Vermont. “But demand continues to outstrip supply in many places,” she added.

Lasagna Love registered as a non-profit organization in September. Today the group has volunteers in every state in the country and is preparing to launch in Canada and Australia, said Andria Larson, the nonprofit’s chief of staff.

Since September, it has received around $ 2 million in donations in kind, including from companies like Pastene and Rao’s Homemade, who each donated around 1,000 boxes of lasagna noodles, canned tomatoes, or jars of tomato sauce to volunteers at various events in late July. To celebrate the 100,000th delivery date, Rao’s will be giving every chef across the country a free jar of tomato sauce, Menn said.

The group has also raised over $ 200,000 in direct donations that will enable them to reimburse some volunteer chefs for cooking expenses and hire staff, Menn said. However, many volunteers are supported by donations from family and friends or they pay for the meals themselves.

The lasagna also went to Americans struggling with challenges unrelated to the pandemic. In Reston, Virginia, Jan Delucien, who has suffered from a traumatic brain injury since she accidentally slammed her head on her car door four years ago, called for her first lasagna in July after hearing about it at her brain support group meetings. Delucien, 64, is disabled and reliant on food deliveries from her local food on wheels. The income from social security disability doesn’t allow her to buy much else, says Delucien. So seeing a smiling volunteer with a hot pan of lasagna that tasted good meant much more to them than just a meal.

“It was really a gift of love,” Delucien said through tears. “It reminded me, regardless of fate or anything, that God was watching out for me. And I believe he uses people to be angels to us. I felt reminded. “

“A meal is not going to help a budget,” she added. “But a special meal can make you feel like you don’t have a budget.”

Despite her successes, Lasagna Love also faces some challenges. Some rural areas and metropolitan areas have more food requests than cooks, making it difficult for some families to get meals. This includes areas such as Northwest Georgia and the Bronx in New York City.

In contrast, there are more chefs in wealthier suburbs than after Essen, so some volunteers have nothing to do. “It is no achievement to let cooks sit around idly because we know there are families out there,” said Dibrito. “We ask people to help us spread the word.”

As the news spread, there were also some requests from Americans who don’t fight but just want lasagna. For DiBrito, these are some of her favorite queries.

“That’s my kind of person,” she said. “(They) get it about the program. It’s there for everyone. “

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The Associated Press is supported by the Lilly Foundation for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, please visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.