Lasagna Love Needs More Volunteers in Springfield Area

  • Published: Monday, Jan. 9, 2023

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Nothing connects neighbors like food, and apparently, nothing says love like lasagna.

Karen Harris of Springfield is the area volunteer coordinator for a neighboring movement known as Lasagna Love.

Although her home is busy with the activities of her husband (retired Navy veteran) and three teenage daughters, Harris says it is not too busy to find time to use food to help others.

"One of the things that I've always been raised to do is to help," said Harris. "My dad used to say to ring the doorbell with your elbows, insinuating that you show up to help people. With a strong Italian heritage, Italians speak with food. It's a great way to help somebody."

When Harris discovered Lasagna Love (https://www.lasagnalove.org), it seemed like a match made in heaven.

"Somebody told me there was this cool organization where you could deliver lasagna to somebody in your community. I checked it out and decided it was the right mission for me," said Harris. "I'm always looking for ways to help."

THE BEGINNINGS

Lasagna Love was founded in 2020 by Rhiannon Menn, a graduate of Berkshire Community College, Brown University, and MIT Sloan. She lives in Kihei, HI, with her husband and three children.

But in 2020, prompted by the COVID-related struggles of families in her community and her own feeling of helplessness, she founded Lasagna Love. It is a platform that connects neighbors for home-cooked meal delivery,

Lasagna Love has grown into an international movement of kindness, impacting thousands of volunteers and recipient families each week. Lasagna Love volunteers are in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Australia, and Canada. About 30,000 volunteers generally serve or deliver about 6,000 lasagnas a week.

COVERING THE OZARKS

"People go to the website and request a lasagna. We fulfill all requests, and we could fulfill a request from the same family once every four weeks," said Harris. "But in Springfield right now, there is a backlog of requests. We don't have enough people cooking to meet all requests."

Harris coordinates the region by matching chefs and requests from Springfield and outlying towns like Miller, Branson, Republic, and Bolivar.

An individual requests a lasagna, and a volunteer chef gets with them to discover when they are available, if there are food allergies, and the number of people to serve.

"Generally, we encourage our chefs to have an open conversation with the people they're cooking for about what they are expecting and dietary restrictions," said Harris.

Sometimes the lasagna is delivered hot and fresh and ready for dinner. But other times, volunteers provide it ready to bake.

Lasagna requests come from families with both short and long-term needs. Nationally, the organization has delivered to homeless shelters and teamed up with churches to feed an area.

BECOMING A LASAGNA CHEF

"Interested individuals sign up on our website. We pull data weekly and match people based on distance and who can cook what type of lasagna," said Harris. "If we have somebody who has an allergy, we want to make sure we match them with somebody who's comfortable cooking for an allergy."

When signing up, volunteers can designate their frequency of service from daily to once a month. Volunteers can block out weeks when they are unavailable. Or if they would rather do multiple lasagnas to maximize their time, that can be done too.

"Some volunteers say that once you're making one lasagna, it's easy to go ahead and make three. It doesn't take a lot more time and helps with our backlog," said Karen.

There is a huge need for volunteers in the Springfield area, both individuals and groups. Harris has partnered with a Girl Scout troop that fixes one lasagna monthly and a retirement community where they work on one together as community outreach.

Lasagna Love refers to their volunteers as chefs. At this point, only a brief online training is required. That video covers the basics of food safety as well. Additional safety steps include an ingredient list on all lasagnas and no-contact delivery.

"I let people know that I'm on the way, then I'll ring the doorbell, and I'll text them a picture of the lasagna on their doorstep along with other details," said Harris.

PERSONAL BENEFITS

Harris says she has personally had many great experiences with her food delivery. One of those came just a few weeks ago in Springfield.

"When I delivered the lasagna, the mom thanked me and said their kids had been relying on the school for meals to get them through. I make an over-generous sized pan because lasagna is delicious as leftovers," said Harris. "So, it felt good knowing I was not only feeding them one meal but a second meal with leftovers."

Echo Alexzander of Highlandville recently signed up to be a chef and fixed her first lasagna for delivery as a way to celebrate Missouri Good Neighbor Week.

"The sign-up and assignment process was easy and seamless and I love cooking," said Alexzander. "It took me a little while to complete my first delivery, but I stayed in close contact with the family. I felt bad because they had been on the list for some time."

Despite their wait, the timing was perfect. Alexzander's family messaged her the next day with a note reading: "Thank you for blessing my family with a lasagna dinner. You don't know what a horrible day it has been, and this meal reminds me that I am not alone."

Alexzander notes that deliveries in Missouri are way behind, especially in rural areas.

"I was thinking it would be great to get a church with a kitchen involved and do a group party where we prepare a bunch of these at once for delivery so we can work down the backlog," said Alexzander.

While Alexzander says she felt blessed to be able to help, another family in Springfield says they were blessed to receive a lasagna a few months ago.

"I was recovering from surgery, and my kids needed to eat," said Stephanie. "A neighbor had used this service before, and although my neighbors brought food to the house, the lasagna helped fill the gaps. I didn't know where else to turn for my children except Door Dash, and we do not have the resources for delivery. So in my case, this bit of kindness was a lifesaver."

INCREASING COMMUNITY CONNECTEDNESS

The mission of Lasagna Love is simple: feed families, spread kindness, and strengthen communities. Connecting neighbors with neighbors through homemade meal delivery creates a positive community impact. Group leaders also say it helps to address food insecurity and provides an act of welcome, comfort and kindness during times of uncertainty or stress.

In April of 2022, Lasagna Love released survey results proving the network effect of kindness and the inspired impact of its volunteers.

Delivery recipients were polled, and nearly 98 percent of Lasagna Love recipients said they were inspired to pay it forward. Many paid it forward within days (21%), while others committed to a specific action in the future (45%). The remainder made a general commitment to do something kind.

The most frequently noted pay-it-forward commitment: food. Of those surveyed, nearly half planned to share a meal or donate food to another struggling family, and many of those wanted to do so themselves as Lasagna Love volunteers.

That same survey shows that acts of kindness also increase community connectedness.

Lasagna Love recipients say they feel more connected (89%) and more supported (93%) by their community due to receiving a home-cooked meal.

Lasagna Love's recipients are not the only ones who feel more connected; volunteers also experience a boomerang-style positive impact. 

"I learned about Lasagna Love because of MU Extension's monthly Neighboring 101 class," said Alexzander. "Lasagna Love has opened a new avenue for me to help my neighbors, but you can bet every one of those neighbors is going to hear more about Neighboring 101 and MU Extension's Engaged Neighbor program too."

MORE INFORMATION

Neighboring is the art and skill of building relationships with the people who live in the closest proximity to you. Being a good neighbor offers tremendous health benefits, leads to reductions in crime, reduces loneliness, improves communities, and improves your quality of life.

University of Missouri Extension is at the forefront of a national movement that recognizes the importance of neighboring in community development. MU Extension is offering classes like "Neighboring 101" and "Neighborhood Labs" along with three annual neighboring events as a way to raise awareness and encourage others to focus on neighbors.

To learn more about our "Engaged Neighbor" program or the impact of neighboring, go online to https://extension.missouri.edu or contact David Burton by email [email protected] or telephone at (417) 881-8909. "Becoming an Engaged Neighbor" can also be found on Facebook.

###

 

 

 

Writer: David Burton

Media Contact

David Burton
417/881-8909

Related Program

Use Tab key to loop through the section below. Press Enter or Space to enter content for each tab button. Press Esc key to exit and to go to the next section at any time.

Extension resources