When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I did not expect it to last a year; I certainly didn’t expect to move for the second time within a year just as everything in the country started to shut down, and I did not expect to be standing in my kitchen at 6 am making homemade sauce and three trays of lasagna on a random October Wednesday. One of the trays was going to a mom and her son that afternoon and I had to prep before starting my workday. (Waking up to the smell of garlic and tomatoes is never a bad thing, right?) I’ve decided that it is completely normal to be drinking your morning coffee and stirring a pot of sauce simmering on the stove as the sun comes up.
The pandemic has hit everyone differently and people cope with stress in a number of ways. In September 2020, I had hit my breaking point. It had been 6 months of being in a new city where I was unable to make friends since we couldn’t leave the house. Having never actually worked in my new office since everything had been moved to teleworking (and still is), I found myself associating all the negativity happening in the world with my new home. I was extremely lonely and found myself lacking purpose – not exactly a healthy way to be starting a new chapter in life.
I found Lasagna Love the same way many of our volunteers do – on a Facebook group. “Help feed families,” I read. Growing up in New Jersey with a very Italian family, feeding people is in my genes. Reading about the Lasagna Love mission to bring a sense of family-driven comfort back to the dinner table reminded me of my own family sitting around a table, sharing a big plate of pasta, laughs, and love – something we could all use during a time of uncertainty. “I can make a few lasagnas every other week,” I thought. I was stuck working at home and hadn’t really ventured outside of my apartment complex so this seemed like an easy way to learn my surroundings and help someone at the same time.
After signing up, I learned I was the first volunteer in Raleigh, NC; my organizing juices started to flow. Having previously worked on grassroots political campaigns, I knew how to spread the word. I knew how to recruit and manage volunteers. I knew how to help people.
3:30 pm rolls around and I take a break from my work desk to put the lasagna in the oven. It will be hot and bubbly when I get off work before driving down the road to deliver the cheesy goodness to the young family I had been matched with that week.
My phone buzzes: “Hi Megan. I have to take my son to urgent care. If I’m not home when you bring the lasagna by, please just leave it outside. Thanks so much!”
I decide to stop by the grocery store on my way over to drop off the meal. A mini pumpkin will cheer up a young kid not feeling well – it’s almost Halloween.
Driving up to the townhome of the family with my car smelling like melty cheese and noodles, I don’t expect anyone to be home. But as soon as my key clicked the car engine off, the front door flew open.
“HELLOOOOO!” exclaims the very excited young boy whose mom is desperately trying to get him back in the house so I could drop off the meal contactless. I smile, mask up and ask, “Are you feeling better?” as I walk up to the door, lasagna in hand. He enthusiastically nods and lets out the most genuine, excited giggle that can only come from a young child who did not fully understand the desperate situation the world was in at the time. The innocence and joy was infectious. I handed mom dinner as she looked at me behind her wide-rimmed glasses and quietly whispered, thank you, in a tone that was unapologetically mixed with gratitude and the understanding of how hard she was trying to be a great mom and that sometimes, that meant asking for help.
Later that evening, my phone buzzes again with a thank you text. “And he loves the mini pumpkin. He drew a face on it and has been playing with it all evening”. He made a friend.
The week I had signed up for Lasagna Love to be a volunteer, I was on the phone with Rhiannon strategizing how to organize Raleigh and how to manage volunteers; I became the Regional Leader for the area. A month later, I joined the Leadership Team as Director for the Midatlantic. I went from feeling alone in Raleigh to having over 250 volunteers on our team in February 2021, and have helped grow the national organization from 1,500 volunteers when I joined to over 19,000.
The Lasagna Mamas and Papas in my local region have looked to me to organize and have accepted me as part of their community. They are some of the most driven, welcoming, and dedicated individuals I have had the privilege to work with. The Directors have become new friends during a time when I felt isolated and scared in a new place and have created a seat at the virtual “table” for me to grow and learn. Lasagna Love is and has always been about serving families in need. However, what many may not realize is that mission sometimes reaches the volunteers and leaders themselves in a different way. It may not be with providing a lasagna meal, but it’s providing the ability to give back and the connection with the entire Lasagna Family surrounding you.
I’m not alone anymore – I found my community where it had always been: around the table.