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Can homemade lasagna be the thing that lifts our neighbors?

A simple meal can show you care during pandemic, food insecurity
Jenny Gummersall prepares several pans of lasagna in her kitchen near Allison for Lasagna Love, a nationwide grassroots nonprofit that support neighbors through homemade food delivery.

La Plata County residents are turning to lasagna as a way to help neighbors experiencing tough times.

The local effort is part of Lasagna Love, a nationwide grassroots movement featured on NBC’s “Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and more than 30 media outlets. The idea is simple: Make a lasagna and share it with a neighbor. The impact, however, is significant, said local volunteers.

Jenny Gummersall, who lives near Ignacio, felt helpless seeing the food lines and knowing people were suffering and hungry, she said.

“When I saw Lasagna Love on the news, I thought, ‘This is something I can do to help others during the pandemic,’” she said.

Lasagna Love volunteers offer families a nutritious, homemade meal. It makes a big difference to have a hot meal on the table when someone is exhausted from navigating pandemic challenges, several volunteers said.
Lasagna Love volunteers pack their lasagnas full of nutritious ingredients for the families that receive the meals. It’s an easy, flexible way to help others experiencing a tough time during the pandemic, La Plata County volunteers said.

Gummersall made her first lasagna delivery Saturday. Kaye Berman, a Durango resident, was the first person to volunteer for the nonprofit in La Plata County and has helped more than 10 families.

“(There’s) just a lot of gratitude,” said Berman, recalling people’s reactions while receiving the lasagna meals. “Just ‘Thank you so much. This will help our family,’ or ‘We are so looking forward to a hot lasagna this Saturday for dinner.’”

Lasagna Love began in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With school closures and job instability, some families were also experiencing greater food insecurity. Parents were suddenly helping their children with remote schoolwork in addition to their daily work.

Jenny Gummersall uses seasoned, locally raised meat from Farmers Fresh in Ignacio in her lasagna recipe.
Jenny Gummersall uses fresh basil from her garden and mixes it into the ricotta cheese in her kitchen near Allison as part of Lasagna Love.

Rhiannon Menn, founder of Good to Mama, started delivering homemade lasagnas in March to families in need of a helping hand.

Within months, the Lasagna Love movement was featured on news outlets nationwide and turned into a grassroots nonprofit. As of February, there are 18,000 volunteers spanning all 50 states and Puerto Rico delivering 3,500 meals each week.

About 575 people in Colorado have also become volunteers, called Lasagna mamas and papas. Eight of those volunteers live in La Plata County communities, with two in Pagosa Springs, said Kimberly Kenworthy, the regional leader for Western Colorado.

“Obviously during the pandemic, many families are suffering. ... They just need to know that someone cares and will go the extra mile,” Kenworthy said. “I just think providing a home-cooked meal – letting them know you care and support them – is huge.”

Jenny Gummersall places several pans of lasagna into her oven near Allison. Eight La Plata County residents volunteer with Lasagna Love.
Jenny Gummersall felt helpless watching families struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic. When she learned about Lasagna Love, she said it gave her a way to support and connect with her neighbors.

It’s a low-barrier volunteer and meal request process. Lasagna mamas and papas can choose how frequently they want to prepare a lasagna, how many families they want to serve and how far they’re willing to drive.

They can change their capacity week by week or volunteer to make one. It’s self-funded by volunteers who must follow health and safety guidelines for at-home food preparation.

Those who are not able to make meals themselves can still support the effort by sponsoring a volunteer.

There are no requirements to receive a lasagna, either. Neighbors can nominate others to receive a meal, and people can list their dietary restrictions. It might take two or more weeks to receive a lasagna.

Through Lasagna Love, residents make homemade lasagna for neighbors to offer a moment of reprieve from a challenging year.
Lasagna Love, a national nonprofit, has been featured in more than 30 media outlets. About 18,000 volunteers from across the United States have joined the effort.

Gummersall and Berman pack their lasagnas as full as possible, adding extra nutritious ingredients or special touches like nutmeg and locally raised beef. Berman, a chef, occasionally delivers the lasagna with extras, like a salad or brownies.

“I know, just from having worked with food banks before, that the need is there. People who haven’t had to worry about where their next meal is coming from, suddenly had to worry about it,” Berman said. “I have the capacity to cook for people. ... I just want to pay it forward.”

They deliver their meals to working families, caregivers, senior citizens and health care workers (while maintaining social distancing because of the pandemic).

“This is a way we can connect and show we care about our neighbors who we don’t even know,” Gummersall said. “If I can brighten someone’s day – take some stress out of their life with a home-cooked meal – then I feel like I can do some good ... one lasagna at a time.”

smullane@durangoherald.com

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