Carle Foster of Lewes had no hesitations about volunteering to make lasagna and deliver it to strangers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s that little bit of giving back … It’s cliché but that pay it forward concept,” said Carle Foster of Lewes.
He volunteers in Sussex County with the Delaware branch of the national nonprofit Lasagna Love. The charity was started in San Diego by Rhiannon Menn, a chef and the founder of Good to Mama.
She was worried about food instability for those who lost jobs or had other stresses during the COVID-19 clobbered the economy. Menn started feeding friends and family who had lost their jobs or new mothers too stressed to cook.
Now Lasagna Love has spread to all 50 states.
“I know at least one family is going to have a hot meal one night,” Foster said “Hopefully they’ll be able to sit together and know that they’re not going to go to sleep hungry.”
Volunteers choose how many times a month they wish to participate, ranging from once a month to every week. Volunteers can also choose how far they wish to travel to drop off the pan.
Families and other recipients also can request to have a pan of lasagna delivered monthly.
There are no requirements for requesting help from Lasagna Love and many of those that request food have unstable food sources or are families with a member suffering from illness.
“When I was going through chemo and just feeling horrible, I loved when somebody would come over and give me a meal that was already prepared that I didn’t have to do anything for. It was such a nice thing that someone else had thought enough to do that,” said Marianne Carter of St. Georges.
A retired dietician, she volunteers and does outreach work for Lasagna Love Delaware.
“I look at this as kind of a way to pay it forward and it’s just so rewarding to know that you personally helped to feed somebody,” Carter said.
Many people who would never have asked for help before the pandemic were asking for help after it started, she said, and that made her want to get involved.
“What better comfort food than lasagna,” Carter said, “when you think about it.”
The organization also allows people to nominate someone else to receive a lasagna who needs help for some reason.
All deliveries are done through a contactless drop off, and requests are filed through an online system where the volunteers are matched with families.
The initial reason for this was to follow contact restrictions of the pandemic.
A side result has been that people don’t need to be embarrassed about asking for help, because the person who delivers the lasagna may never see them. This level of anonymity is something that the organization is currently considering keeping post pandemic.
“It’s been fairly simple to keep the deliveries contactless,” Foster said, “Most people have a front step or a porch or something that you can put the meal down on. I would usually knock on the door, put the food down and make sure that they were home and got the food.”
The main point of contact between the volunteer and the recipient is through the phone. Volunteers can ask if the family has any kind of allergy, or if they do or don’t like certain things in their lasagna.
In Delaware there are roughly 150 volunteers for Lasagna Love delivering lasagna all over the state. said Jennifer Jarman of Felton, state coordinator for the Delaware and Missouri Lasagna Love.
Sussex County and Wilmington are just about tied in the highest level of requests.
Volunteers can use their own lasagna recipe or use one of the few recipes available on the Lasagna Love website. The organization also is in talks to publish a cookbook filled with different lasagna recipes.
Carter uses a healthier lasagna recipe with ground turkey, zucchini and yellow squash.
Foster makes his own special recipe that he’s developed over the years. He usually asks the family if they are okay with fresh spinach in the lasagna.
Andrea Carbaugh of Bear, another volunteer with 30 years teaching experience, uses a recipe heavy on the meat sauce that hides the vegetables.
“As a teacher, I’m real slick at hiding vegetables from kids.” Carbaugh said. “If mom thinks that ‘my kid’s not gonna eat that cause it has spinach in it,’ they’ll never know.”
Most recently Lasagna Love has begun recommending its volunteers cook things other than lasagna such as casserole, baked ziti and taco salad.
Some volunteers will give baked goods and bagged side salads along with the main dish.
The Delaware region of Lasagna Love has also been doing public outreach and partnership with other nonprofit organizations. Their biggest partnership is with the Good Shepherd kitchen in Georgetown that feeds the area’s homeless and needy every day.
Lasagna Love donates about 20 pans of Lasagna once a month.
The organization also has donated cooked meals to Lighthouse for Broken Wings, a Sussex County temporary home. Lighthouse for Broken Wings received six or seven pans of lasagna and cut them up into individual meals to be given out at homeless camps in the Rehoboth area.
The organization hopes to do the same at the Newport Sheraton homeless shelter, but is working on making a connection.
To volunteer for Lasagna Love or request a delivery, go to lasagnalove.org
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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