Baldwin Park resident Diane Hancock was driving down Glenridge Road when she first learned about Lasagna Love.
Hancock was listening to an episode of National Public Radio in her car. Two lasagna chefs, known as a Lasagna Papa and a Lasagna Mama, were being interviewed about their volunteer work with Lasagna Love.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I can do that,’” she says. “The pandemic just started, and I had left Disney to do freelance work. But I thought that if there was freelance work out there, then I can’t take that away from people who are trying to feed their families. A lot of my family members or friends were suffering through the pandemic, and we were doing OK. So I said, ‘I’m going to stop taking freelance work, and that’s going to give me the time to be able to do this.’”
LAYERS OF LOVE
Lasagna Love is a global nonprofit and grassroots movement that “aims to positively impact communities by connecting neighbors with neighbors through homemade meal delivery,” according to the organization’s website.
Lasagna Love seeks to eliminate stigmas associated with asking for help when it’s needed most.
The mission: Feed families, spread kindness and strengthen communities.
“This really started with the pandemic, and I knew people were food insecure,” Hancock says. “We deliver no-contact, so there wasn’t any risk to me health-wise. … To be able to help someone who is in need and in such an easy, easy way, it’s like there’s no reason I can’t do that. If we all help a little, it matters a lot.”
Those who wish to become lasagna chefs can customize their profile to include how often they would like to make deliveries, how far they are willing to deliver and even what type of lasagna they are willing to cook.
Although there is not one set recipe for lasagna, there are recipes available on the organization’s website that the chefs can utilize if they wish.
Some chefs choose to accommodate people with allergies or dietary restrictions with different recipes such as lasagnas that are vegan, vegetarian, chicken or even no dairy. Some chefs even make alternatives such as chicken pot pie for those who do not like lasagna.
“The main objective is to feed the family,” Hancock says. “All that matters is that you fed that family. Yes, I live in Baldwin Park; I have a lot of privilege. For me to give back should be something that I do. I feel very much that I have a responsibility to give back.”
Those who wish to make a request for a lasagna can fill out a form on the nonprofit’s website or even request a lasagna for someone else in need.
After creating a profile, lasagna chefs receive an email from the organization matching them with a recipient.
Hancock says she then texts the recipient and introduces herself before asking about allergies and dietary restrictions. She schedules a time and day for the delivery and creates a small care package with notes such as safety precautions relating to food handling, a list of the ingredients in the lasagna and the lasagna itself.
She texts the recipient to let them know she’s on her way, knocks on the door and leaves the lasagna before texting again to let the family know it’s there.
“It’s important for people to feel like we really want to do this for them,” Hancock says. “We get as much out of it as they do. It’s just one family helping another family.”
COMMUNITY CARE TAKER
Hancock has now been delivering lasagnas for more than two years with the help of her husband, Steve.
The couple typically delivers one lasagna a week and currently has made 77 meals.
The Hancocks choose to deliver within a five mile radius of Baldwin Park, although Diane Hancock shared she was surprised when she first started with the organization to see how big the need was even in the small area. She has never not had a match.
Because of the contactless delivery, Diane Hancock says she has only met two of her recipients.
Although she often receives “thank yous” from recipients, she says, humbly, “It’s just one mama helping another mama.”
Her first lasagna delivery was to a single mom who wanted her son to have a home-cooked meal. The mother gave Diane Hancock a “thank you” card with $10 in it and asked her to pay it forward to someone else in need.
Diane Hancock believes the no-contact delivery helps people feel more at ease and more comfortable.
“It’s about their dignity,” she says. “They don’t have to look me in the face and thank me and express their gratitude. Really, they shouldn’t have to do that. For a lot of people, it’s very hard for them to ask for help, and then to have to face someone, I think for some, it can make it that much harder.”
The Hancocks say a lot of the recipients discover Lasagna Love by word by mouth. Often, the couple will deliver in the same neighborhood or area code.
Lasagna Love periodically reaches out to different nonprofits in the area, church groups, Girl Scouts, shares the word on NextDoor and has even recruited a couple of chefs to get them involved and to make them aware of their services.
“We never know what’s on the other side of the door,” she says. “It definitely puts you in check for being judgmental of other people. We’ve delivered to neighborhoods that you know the people are in financial need. We’ve delivered to people with disabilities. We’ve delivered in neighborhoods that require a gate code, and that might make you think ‘Hm?’ but you never know what’s on the other side of the door.”
The Hancocks says that it’s really that simple — as a community, neighbors should be helping neighbors.
“We all have a responsibility to help our neighbors out, and if I was in need, which you never know and could happen at any time, I have friends, family and neighbors who I know would come help me,” Diane Hancock says. “It’s important to stay mindful. We can all pay it forward.”