As is so often the case, a major philanthropic movement began with a single act of kindness amid COVID-19’s first wave in March 2020.
Rhiannon Menn, a mother of three living in San Diego, decided she wanted to do something to help her local community during the pandemic. As Menn witnessed many families struggling to provide the basics, including meals, this is where she decided to make her modest mark.
Menn made seven trays of lasagna and offered them on Facebook to families nearby. What happened next could be considered a miracle: the effort went viral. Menn calls it a happy “accident.” Just 18 months later, Lasagna Love, as it is now known, boasts 33,000 volunteers, has baked over 100,000 lasagnas, operates in every state in the U.S. and recently launched operations in Canada and Australia.
“It just goes to show there were so many people in the beginning who really, really wanted to help their neighbors and didn’t know how to do it and didn’t know how to do it safely,” Menn said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And they saw this and latched onto Lasagna Love as an opportunity to really impact their communities in a meaningful way.”
If there is a silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud, this is it. Ordinary Americans are stepping up to help others even as they endure their own challenges. In fact, American generosity hit a new high in 2020 with charitable giving reaching a record $471 billion, according to Giving USA.
Of course, this does not begin to account for the amount of time people gave in addition to treasure. One example The Associated Press cited is Lasagna Love volunteer Lynne Hirsch, who drove 70 miles to deliver 20 trays of gooey pasta-goodness to residents of Chatsworth and Dalton, Georgia, who had no access to volunteer chefs in those areas.
Despite the efforts of volunteer organizations like Lasagna Love though, hunger persists. While the organization has brought in $2 million in in-kind donations since it registered as a nonprofit organization in September 2020, and over $200,000 in cash contributions, according to The Associated Press, there are more food requests than available chefs in both rural and densely populated metro areas. Menn identified Houston and Las Vegas as specific places of need. For those who want to help close the gap in these cities and elsewhere, click to volunteer here.
Still, volunteer shortage notwithstanding, the organization continues to have an outsized impact. On August 24, Lasagna Love announced it had broken its record for deliveries in a single week, with some 6,000 lasagnas delivered to places like the Willow Veterans Housing Community in California, a nonprofit in Indiana that helps needy women and children, and fire stations and homeless shelters in Virginia. These are only a fraction of the 428,000 people served since the organization’s founding.
While it is true COVID-19 prompted the launch of Lasagna Love, Menn promises the organization and its work will continue when the pandemic subsides.
“Even as we emerge from the pandemic, acts of kindness will forever be a welcome sight,” said Menn in a recent post on the organization’s website. “We envision an ongoing need not only to feed families but spread kindness during a time when uncertainty about many things remains high. One small act of comfort can change a mindset.”
The Philanthropy Roundtable believes communities are strengthened by such acts of comfort, with one person or group addressing the needs of others through private, voluntary action and inspiring those in their communities to follow suit … a core tenet of the American philanthropic tradition. In this case, that means spreading love – and a whole lot of lasagna – to hungry people in various corners of the globe.
Per the Lasagna Love website: “Lasagna Love is a nationwide grassroots movement that aims to positively impact communities by connecting neighbors with neighbors through homemade meal delivery. We also seek to eliminate stigmas associated with asking for help—especially from moms— when it is needed most.” Click here for more information.