Centerville mom of twins helps spread ‘Lasagna Love’

Neighbors helping neighbors is not a new concept, but with the COVID-19 global pandemic, it has taken on a whole new meaning.

In early 2020, Rhiannon Menn, a chef and a mom living in Hawaii was inspired to start “Lasagna Love,” when she saw families in her own community struggling. She hoped that something as simple as connecting neighbors with neighbors for home-cooked meal delivery would help create a national movement of kindness.

In Centerville, Traci Hale was watching a national news program and saw a story about “Lasagna Love,” which was growing slowly and hoping to extend further across the country. She was intrigued.

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“I have been involved in a number of different volunteer organizations over the years,” Hale said. “And I love cooking, so I got excited when I saw this story.”

Hale, who works for Oakwood City Schools as the director of community relations, instantly signed up on Facebook and said she was excited to get started.

“It was still fairly regional at the time and it has taken some time to get this around the country and recruit people to help,” Hale said. “We do have local and regional leaders that handle getting people who are requesting lasagna matched with those who want to make it.”

Hale has been making one meal of lasagna, which is the staple dish of the program, for one family each week. She said she may also make a salad and include cookies or brownies to make a full meal.

“I signed up in the fall of last year and I got matched for the first time in December,” Hale said.

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With the contactless restrictions in place during the pandemic, Hale said she reaches out to her matched family by phone and figures out their schedules as well as their needs and any dietary restrictions. Other participants often share recipes for different types of lasagna, including vegetarian, and dairy and gluten free.

The program has continued to grow, feed more families, spread more kindness and as a result, strengthens communities and helps people feeling isolated at home. With the rise in food insecurity across the nation, organizations like Lasagna Love are even more important. In December of 2020, “Lasagna Love” had spread across 47 states, delivered more than 8,000 meals and officially earned its non-profit status.

“‘Lasagna Love’ exists to deliver comfort where we experience it most often — our family dining table — and to prove that even small displays of kindness can have profound and lasting impact,” Menn said. “Our mission is not only to help address the rise in food insecurity, but to also provide a simple act of love and kindness during a time of uncertainty and stress and reduce stigmas associated with parents — especially moms — asking for help when it is needed most.”

And since in Hale’s home, cooking has always been a family affair, she has involved her adult twin daughters, Haley and Kinsey Brown, both of whom are living and working in Washington D.C.

“Kinsey is a regional leader, but both are working remotely right now so they have time to put together some meals,” Hale said. “We always cooked a lot and we used to have their friends over for big dinners, so we all enjoy cooking for other people.”

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Hale raised her daughters to give back to their communities from the time they were small, encouraging them to come up with ideas on their own.

“The girls were always organizing their own events, whether it was door-to-door collections for MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) or making bracelets to sell to support a campaign at Camp Kern; they always have thought of others.”

Hale said initially she wasn’t matched every week, but now that more people know about the program and the opportunity to have a free, home-cooked meal delivered, requests have been coming regularly.

“I hear good things from the families I cook for,” Hale said. “They usually say it’s amazing and they can’t eat it all, so they freeze it and have food for another several meals!”

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