When Lasagna Love New Jersey Regional Director Shari DiBrito was asked to oversee the Bronx (NY) for a week during another Regional Director’s vacation, she wasn’t anticipating that her duties would be much different than any other week. But when she opened the matching portal, she was face to face with 115 requests.
The math for this type of matching was itself a challenge as the number of available volunteer chefs was a percentage of what was needed, however DiBrito, whose unusually challenged background as a three-time cancer survivor, doesn’t easily give up. “The visual of the map was my inspiration,” she said. “I knew I had to try something.”
DiBrito noticed a sizable discrepancy in the Bronx–where dozens of requests had been made yet at the time, only four Lasagna Chefs were available for matching.
Her mission: Find lasagnas for those families and get them delivered.
Unfortunately, completing her mission would prove to be a monumental challenge as geographically, the Bronx is difficult to navigate. The streets are lined with parked cars, leaving very few options for visitors to drop off and many of the requests were from families residing in high rise buildings, many of which had no doormen to accept deliveries or direct unfamiliar visitors. “I felt it was my responsibility to get those outside the Bronx to go into the Bronx,” she said.
Rather than throw her hands up in despair or wave a white flag, DiBrito called upon her years of service and innate creativity..and headed to Facebook. Across the social media platform, DiBrito plastered a series of inventive callouts for support, grounded in her New Jersey roots– a state where it is illegal to pump your own gas, and as any Sopranos fan would pontificate, where an authentic Italian meal isn’t hard to find.
Her posts commanded attention. With tongue-in-cheek tone, her post: “Any Jersey girls or guys want to learn how to pump gas? Head into the Bronx and give it a try! Take a lasagna…I have a family for you!” jump-started engagement and more importantly, caught the attention of others, including Lasagna Love volunteer Meghan Campion.
Campion, a middle school science teacher from New Jersey, proposed a unique idea about how to get lasagnas to families in the Bronx. It wouldn’t be by car or public transportation. Rather, she had an idea to transport lasagnas…by foot.
As a highly active mom of two, Campion has for years challenged herself physically and mentally, signing up for Spartan races and the like, which led her to a group called GORUCK. Founded by former members of the Special Forces military, GORUCK manufactures gear and oversees events that challenge individuals — and maintains an overarching value of service.
Campion put a call out to her club of fellow rucking fanatics. Carlos Orduz, a member of the Big Apple Area Ruckers, responded.
The Big Apple Area Ruckers collected a scrum of ruckers; Lasagna Love Lower NJ Regional Leader Kristine Forcillo organized Lasagna Chefs and frozen lasagna drop offs; Shari DiBrito clustered together more than a dozen delivery locations in a six mile radius; and Campion baked 17 trays of brownies to deliver to families as dessert (and to thank the supportive ruckers).
Carrying an extra 10-30 pounds on their backs while hauling coolers, trays and totes, the Big Apple Area Ruckers traversed 6.5 miles to deliver lasagnas. “There is a saying: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go with friends’,” Campion shared. “The Bronx Project combined my interest in serving with my passion for being active and rucking is about the team, not the individual.”
Gaining access to the Bronx would have been impossible if not for the out-of-the-box creativity of more than a dozen individuals. DiBrito recognized the need to draw attention to the issue and rather than just go with the facts, she engaged with creativity and interest. Campion, who snagged DiBrito’s “bait” ascended the ball further, calling upon her church and upon realizing that getting lasagnas to the Bronx would be nearly impossible via car or public transportation, called upon another layer of support–the ruckers–who aided in the transportation and ultimate distribution of lasagnas in the only approach that could have worked. DiBrito commented, “As I always say–teamwork makes the dream work!”
Lasagna Love comprises an army of more than 20,000 service-oriented kindness ambassadors, each of whom has unique talents and gifts to offer.. Through our shared purpose to feed families, spread kindness and strengthen community, Lasagna Love participants have positively impacted the lives of more than 300,000 Americans.
“The Bronx Project,” will be fondly remembered for so many reasons, with the most notable one being that by working together and asking for help when it was needed most, a crew of strangers working together — completed the mission.