Janet Stoddard has worked and volunteered for decades with abused children, special-needs kids, struggling readers and families seeking housing, but her newest interest is the first to require putting on a chef’s hat and adopting the title of “lasagna mama.”
“The things I was involved with in the community all came to an abrupt halt with COVID,” she said. “This is a great way to still be involved in a safe and meaningful way, help out a neighbor and share your love.”
Stoddard, a Woodland Park resident, is one of 1,500 volunteers across the country who have joined a COVID-inspired brigade called Lasagna Love.
The grassroots effort started last April with San Diego mom Rhiannon Menn, who in 2019 began penning her thoughts on motherhood on her Be Good to Mama website.
During the pandemic, she was looking for a way to tangibly make a difference for neighbors who had lost jobs, were worried about going out, or felt isolated and needed a little pick-me-up. That meant food.
Menn’s recipe of a night of sustenance and a few pinches of kindness spread and has attracted a healthy force of volunteers and participants.
From buying extra groceries at Costco, cooking more than her family could eat and delivering meals to people she knew would appreciate a homecooked entrée, Menn’s Lasagna Love project has moved into every state, according to the website. The movement was featured in recent weeks on The Kelly Clarkson Show and Good Morning America.
Stoddard became a Lasagne Love volunteer last month and so far has whipped up four large pans of the gooey, hot pasta for recipients who signed up on the organization’s website, lasagnalove.org. Her latest delivery was to a foster mom with six teenagers.
“I made two pans, and I hope it was enough,” Stoddard said.
Households register to receive lasagna by filling out a simple questionnaire on the website, which doesn’t include any income requirement. Dietary restrictions such as vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free can be accommodated.
Volunteer chefs, also called lasagna mamas or papas, are matched with registered people in their community and contact them on the phone or by text message.
“You agree on a mutually convenient day and time to drop it off or meet them somewhere,” Stoddard said.
Participants can receive a pan of lasagna monthly, and volunteers can choose how much they want to cook. Some volunteers include personalized notes or drawings from their children, she said, along with a sticker identifying the food being from the program.
“The feedback melts your heart,” Stoddard said. “The families are so grateful.”
The need for food assistance remains high in the Pikes Peak region, said Joanna Wise, spokeswoman for Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado, which supplies 48 pantries in the area.
The organization is distributing about 50% more food than it was pre-pandemic, Wise said.
Both Teller and El Paso counties had an estimated 14% food insecurity rate in 2020, up from 10% and 11% respectively in 2018, according to Feeding America, a national organization with a network of 200 food banks.
Stoddard, who retired in 2019 as Teller County program manager for Court-Appointed Special Advocates, which supports abused and neglected children in legal cases, is getting the word out to community agencies that provide food assistance and made flyers to hand out.
Who wouldn’t want a freshly-made home-cooked pan of a signature Italian dish instead of making a trip to a food pantry on a given day, she said.
“I’m amazed at all the big hearts of people who want to give back,” she said, adding that her contributions to the program inspired a neighbor to sign up as a chef as well.