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‘We’re all in this together’

Lasagna Love offers a meal and a way to connect with others

Hoping to spread some warmth — via friendliness and comfort food this winter — Medford resident Charyl Ray said she was immediately hooked on the idea of offering up homemade pasta dishes to complete strangers when a friend posted about Lasagna Love (lasagnalove.org) on social media earlier this year.

An avid cook and community volunteer, Ray already spends much of her time doing rescue dog transport and helping those closest to her. With a passion for cooking, a lasagna-sharing volunteer gig was right up her alley and a fun way to spend time with her granddaughter, Layla.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Layla Gillette, 5, helps her grandma, Charyl Ray, make lasagna Friday for the Lasagna Love movement.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Layla Gillette, 5, helps to make lasagna Friday at her grandma's house in Central Point.

“My friend in Wisconsin, she’s my best friend, started doing it a few months ago and she posted about it on Facebook. I immediately called her and said tell me about this lasagna thing!” Ray said.

“So I got online and I signed up and I got a match, almost right away, for the next week.”

Via an online portal, volunteers like Ray sign up to make lasagna for those in need. Lasagna requests come from sick families, families facing traumatic events or just individuals who are in a tough spot in life.

“It’s not just people that don’t have any food. It’s fire victims, elderly people who can’t cook anymore, people who have a lot going on in their lives,” Ray said.

“A lady I delivered to last week is caring for two elderly people who live in her household plus two elderly neighbors, and she’s cooking for them every single day. She said, ‘They eat everything I bring to them and they’re grateful, but I’m exhausted and can’t always cook it from scratch.

“I love that there’s no income question or a, ‘Why do you need this?’ Ray added. ”You just sign up and you’re getting lasagna. For me it’s a way to not only give back to the community but to touch somebody that needs a little extra help.”

Human connection, said Alyssa Marino, public relations coordinator for Lasagna Love, has been a key ingredient since Lasagna Love founder, San Diego mom Rhiannon Menn, began connecting hungry folk with free lasagna at the start of the pandemic.

A gesture as old as time, the neighborly gesture initiated a viral movement, a nod to the craving for connectivity in a chaotic world. In little more than a year, Lasagna Love has spread to three countries — the U.S., Canada and Australia — and boasts over 20,000 volunteers. By some estimates, well over 100,000 pans of lasagna — up to 2,500 per week — have been shared, said Marino.

The system is simple. Families can request meals through an online portal, and they will be contacted by a local volunteer, referred to as “chefs,” who will coordinate their personal delivery.

“It’s been its own movement. There are so many heartfelt stories. And we get requests from people experiencing all kinds of difficulties, whether they just lost their job or just lost child care, maybe they just had a baby and they’re struggling to keep up, or just generally having trouble making ends meet,” Marino said.

“I myself have delivered lasagnas to Section 8 housing and I’ve delivered lasagna to beautiful big homes with perfect manicured lawns. Anybody who needs help can raise their hand, and we will respond with a home-cooked meal. I think the reason why people like to volunteer with Lasagna Love is … you can easily donate money or you can easily donate something specific, like canned goods, but the act of making a home-cooked meal and putting all that time and love into it, then delivering it to a perfect stranger, there is nothing so special as that.”

Ray says it’s fun to have some creative license. The only requirement is that the lasagna be made from scratch — not purchased from a store. Chefs can contact recipients to ask about dietary restrictions or needs and they’re free to add a salad and a loaf of bread if they want to.

An online support group for chefs is a fun way for volunteers to share stories, ask questions or even share tips about recipes or sales on needed supplies.

Ray said she’s hopeful to see an influx in Lasagna Love volunteers in Southern Oregon soon.

“When I signed up, I got a match for that next week, and the gal had been waiting for months, so I think we could definitely use more volunteers in our area. I feel bad I can only do one every other week when the need is just so tremendous,” said Ray.

The inspiring stories and the warm feeling of infusing some kindness into the world is as inspiring as the chance to help someone in need or even just to spend an afternoon baking with her grandbaby, Ray said.

“It’s really a way to kind of shrink your world a little bit,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter if you know somebody or not, but if somebody needs something and they’re brave enough to say so, we should all try to do what we can. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it? Like they say, ‘We’re all in this together.’”

Online: lasagnalove.org; facebook.com/WeAreLasagnaLove

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.