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Fostering community, one tray of lasagna at a time


It’s a simple mission, but an effective one: Feed families, spread kindness and strengthen communities.

That’s what international organization Lasagna Love sets out to do by offering free, home-cooked meals to families in need for any reason, with no questions asked.

Founded in 2020 by California mom Rhiannon Menn, who, with her daughter, sought to alleviate neighbors’ pandemic-related stress with a simple act of kindness, the volunteer effort now has a global reach and includes a handful of volunteers, dubbed chefs, in south central Missouri.

Denise Parsons, a chef in West Plains, would love to see more people get involved.

Learning of the volunteer opportunity through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in West Plains, she began cooking meals for people in her community just over a year ago. To this day, she is the only local Lasagna Love volunteer she knows of, and she cooks about one meal a week.

The reasons for meal requests are as varied as the families she serves, she said. They include everything from busy weeks to major life events that can disrupt a routine. She has taken requests from people of all ages, from young college students to community elders.

Heather Harris, local coordinator for Missouri, noted when school resumed in August, she fielded a lot of back-to-school themed requests, be they from teachers needing a meal for their families to lighten the workload, bus drivers getting home late after adapting to new routes, or parents overwhelmed with the kids’ new, busier schedules.

A meal can be requested by a person or family for themselves, or by a friend or neighbor for someone else, for any reason — or for no reason at all, said Harris.

There are two separate forms on the Lasagna Love website, lasagnalove.org. Families and individuals wishing to ask for a meal for themselves can fill out a simple request with name, address and contact information, plus dietary restrictions and number of children and/or adults in the household. There is an option to share information about how the meal will help, but it is not a requirement.

For those wishing to request a meal for someone, there is another form that only asks for the name and contact information of the person making the nomination, and name and email address of the person intended to benefit. When a nomination is made, the intended recipient of the meal must accept and coordinate with the volunteer to schedule the day and time for the meal to be delivered — this way, there are no surprises.

All meal deliveries are arranged to be contactless, but sometimes chefs and the people they serve get to share a moment together. Parsons said she has not known most of the people she has delivered lasagnas to, but she did know one: her neighbor. She has had opportunities to speak with meal recipients, who have shared with her meaningful moments, something she feels proud to be a part of.

“It’s about giving back,” she said, taking a moment to catch her breath in a wave of emotion. “I don’t do this for a pat on the back.” She explained that after her father died, she felt a need to give back.

“People here are so nice,” she said. “You have a flat tire and the first person to pass you will stop to check if you’re OK.”

Lasagna love gave her the opportunity to give back to her community on a schedule she could control. She signed up to cook weekly — but she can choose to cook more or less frequently — and she has been happy with that schedule.

Harris said there are three volunteers in Howell and Oregon counties, and 11 total in the southeast Missouri region, which includes some chefs in Ozark County.

“We are across the state, but we could always use more volunteers,” she said.

Anyone in any stage of life can sign up to help, she said.

“In general, I’ve seen a lot of people in retirement, or on summer break, or with kids,” she said, describing the volunteers with whom she works. “Really, it runs the gamut.”

She herself found out about Lasagna Love through a Facebook group for moms, in which a post was made asking for volunteers.

“For me, I’m a full-time parent with two kids and not a whole lot of disposable income,” she said, noting cooking lasagnas seemed like an easy way to help people in need.

“It’s nice to have something I can do with my kids,” the mom of two added. Her children are 5 and 7. “It’s a good way to share with them.”

Parsons said getting started as a volunteer is pretty easy: Signing up is all online. Prospective volunteers answer a few personal questions, specify their preferences for communication methods, and wait to be matched with a recipient.

She would encourage anyone with time, energy and a love for cooking to join the effort. Meals are coordinated online through a volunteer portal, in which information like dietary restrictions and family size is made available, she explained. Volunteers can choose to accept a delivery at their own discretion.

“It’s pretty rare that I get someone who doesn’t feel comfortable with a request, unless it’s a bit further outside of their comfort zone,” said Harris. That comfort zone might be driving farther than a volunteer is accustomed to, or dealing with a food allergy that is unfamiliar to the chef. That said, Harris pointed out, leaders try to match volunteers with families based on factors like drive time and the chef’s familiarity with certain nutritional needs.

According to official Lasagna Love data, the organization delivers an average of 3,500 meals a week, and since its inception, has impacted more than 1.5 million lives through the delivery of more than 350,000 meals. More than 45,000 volunteer chefs come from “all walks of life,” and as of 2021, the organization has a presence in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

To sign up as a volunteer chef, visit lasagna love.org/volunteer.

To request a meal for someone else, visit lasagna love.org/nominate. Direct requests may be made at lasagna love.org/request-a-meal.

For more information, follow Lasagna Love on social media: @WeAreLasagnaLove on Facebook and Instagram, and @Lasagna Love on LinkedIn.