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Omaha Magazine

Layers of Love: Lasagna Love Feeds Families, Spreads Kindness, and Strengthens Communities

May 23, 2023 03:30PM ● By Tamsen Butler
Griving profile Omaha Magazine June 2023 lasagna love

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

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Nothing warms the heart like a gooey, hot lasagna, layered and baked with love. That’s why the volunteers at the charity Lasagna Love make and deliver homemade lasagnas freely, expecting nothing in return.

It’s likely that Rhiannon Menn didn’t set out to be the founder of a global nonprofit organization, but—as many can attest—the pandemic did peculiar things to people’s life plans. 

“Our founder, Rhiannon Menn, kind of refers to herself as the ‘accidental founder,’” explained Kathy Kirschner, local leader for the Omaha area chapter of Lasagna Love. “She just felt really helpless at the start of the pandemic and started thinking of what she could do and was like, ‘I can make a meal.’ So she posted in her social group on Facebook that she was making a couple lasagnas today and that she can leave them on people’s front porch... just let her know who needs them. And that’s how it started, and I think some of her social circle said, ‘I can do that too, I want to help.’ It sort of bloomed from there.”

Nebraska is just one layer of this delicious movement—all 50 states (and two countries outside the US) have Lasagna Love volunteers who make and deliver casseroles to people in their communities. According to its website, the organization has an estimated 35,000 volunteers; to date they've delivered 250,000 lasagnas.

The premise of the organization is simple: volunteers make lasagna and then deliver the dishes, contact-free, per request. It’s done out of a desire to “feed families, spread kindness, strengthen communities”—the official mission of the organization.

Kirschner joined the organization after hearing about Lasagna Love from a friend in another state. She started as a volunteer, making and delivering lasagnas, but soon found herself presented with the local leader role. She seized the opportunity.

“It’s more than just providing a lasagna,” she affirmed.

Amy Miller, Lasagna Love’s outreach coordinator for Nebraska, works alongside Kirschner and a group of hardworking volunteers to fulfill the many requests for meals. Miller started with the organization about two years ago, sharing her time as a way to help those in situations that once mirrored her own.

When I was first becoming a mom, I struggled,” Miller revealed. “It was hard to find something not out of a box. So now that I’m in a better place, I want to give back to people who might be working two jobs or just struggling. I want to help them with something I really enjoy doing. It’s really rewarding; it gives you that sense that I’m not only doing something I enjoy, but I’m spreading some kindness to somebody, and I don’t even need to know them, and I don’t even need to know why. It’s just my way to give back to the people who helped me when I was younger.”

Anyone can request a lasagna for any reason—from simply wanting a home-cooked meal to needing help after surgery. The requests aren’t vetted; instead, they're put directly into a queue to be claimed by one of the many local volunteers who make the lasagna in their home kitchen and then deliver it, no questions asked.

The amount of time it takes to receive a lasagna varies, depending on the recipient's location and the number of volunteers taking requests. 

“We try to make it clear we’re not Uber Eats; you’re not getting it that same day,” Kirschner noted. 

Though the volunteers would love nothing more than to get lasagnas out instantaneously, it’s simply not a reasonable goal. All lasagnas are homemade, and that takes time. 

Kirschner said the number of pans made by volunteers in a given week varies. While some volunteers make lasagnas one-by-one as the requests come in, others stock up and freeze lasagnas for future use. 

“I usually make them that day and deliver them that day,” she explained. “Some people are like, ‘As long as I’m making one, I’m going to make five, and I’ll have them ready for the next five matches.’ It just sort of depends on the volunteer and their freezer space.”

Additionally, requestors can ask for a contactless delivery. 

“Some of our volunteers do face-to-face interactions, but most of mine have been contactless,” Kirschner said. “I leave it outside their front door, I take a picture like Amazon does, say it was delivered, and then I drive off.”

Requestors can also specify dietary preferences for their lasagna. The online request form allows for specifying vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, nut allergy, and no dairy dishes. There’s also a box to request specific ingredients be left out, like 'no mushrooms' or 'no ricotta.' 

“Lasagna is always an offering, but some volunteers choose to offer other things like a chicken broccoli casserole or spaghetti and meatballs,” Kirschner said. “Honestly, it just depends. I prefer lasagna. I’ve got the recipe memorized and, of all my deliveries, I’ve only given something different than that maybe two or three times and it was because of their dietary needs.”

Miller added, “I’ve been doing this for two years, and I like to cook, so I always have options. I look at what’s on sale. Especially in the summer, lasagna’s kind of heavy so I will offer pulled pork or grilled chicken. I’ve found people, especially repeat requestors, are happy to have a choice. Sometimes they’ll take the lasagna, but other times they’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah! Pulled pork sandwiches would be great because it’s 100° outside, and we don’t want lasagna.'

“The only unfortunate thing is the wait times can be longer. Typically we have more requests than we have volunteers. My biggest focus as outreach coordinator is to find more help so we don’t have people waiting two and three months from the time they ask for help.” 

At the time of this writing, there are approximately 70 families awaiting a lasagna delivery—60 of those are in the Omaha area. The further out of the metro requests are, the longer the wait time can be since the bulk of the state’s volunteers live within the city limits.

“I have volunteers in West Omaha and Elkhorn that don’t want to drive more than five miles,” Kirschner said. 

Recently, a group of Lasagna Love volunteers gathered and made 20 lasagnas to help reduce the number of requestors in queue. Volunteers are always needed (and appreciated) at Lasagna Love. It’s an easy and accommodating group to join— a quick sign-up online is all it takes to get involved. Volunteers are then matched with requestors who live within the volunteer’s stated location of service.

When asked if they receive a lot of gratitude for their efforts, Kirschner and Miller both asserted that they’re not involved in the organization to seek gratitude. 

“The ‘thank yous’ aren’t why we do it,” Kirschner answered. “If they’re brave enough to say they need help, I’m going deliver and they don’t have to thank me—that’s not why I signed up.”

People who are intrigued by the mission of Lasagna Love, but who aren’t comfortable with cooking for others, can instead sign the “Kindness Pledge” online that allows people to serve their communities in whatever ways best suit their talents and time. This allows the organization’s mission to extend beyond the confines of a lasagna pan.

Those who sign the Kindness Pledge are asked to share it with others, helping spread the movement organically. Beyond signing the pledge or cooking lasagna, the organization also accepts monetary donations via their website.

When asked what the organization needs most, Kirschner responded, “I would say volunteers. Donations are fine, too. If someone wants to contribute but doesn’t have the time or skill, they can make a donation or there’s an option to sponsor a volunteer. They can basically sponsor the ingredients for a volunteer. Volunteers are great. It’s such a flexible opportunity, so whether you want to make one and be done or if you want make one a month or four a week, we’re happy for any contribution.” 

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This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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