Navigating college during COVID: How Lasagna Love created a home away from home during a time of great uncertainty

By Riley Cuddy

As a young intern for Lasagna Love, I entered this position curious to learn more about an organization that has successfully blossomed and provided numerous meals to a multitude of recipients during the COVID-19 pandemic. A family friend had brought the organization to my attention and presented the great opportunity for me to serve as Lasagna Love’s social media intern; allowing me to integrate my creativity with my love for service, this seemed like the perfect position for me.

Whilst I scrolled through social media posts and testimonials from Lasagna chefs and recipients, I found it empowering to see how the simple act of cooking a lasagna could have such a positive impact in a time of vulnerability, isolation, and fear. I quickly felt drawn to increase my involvement and sign up to deliver a Lasagna myself. Little did I know, the opportunity to cook for a local family would lead to such fulfillment when I needed it most.

Last Fall, I began my college experience under very strange circumstances: mask guidelines, social distancing policies, online learning, isolated dorm life, and limited social interaction. While transitioning to college is difficult to begin with, the COVID-19 pandemic made settling into a new environment with new peers extra daunting. As someone who has grown up in a family-oriented Italian household, moving to a different setting under such strict guidelines made me miss the comforting sense of home. I craved helping my mother and grandmother cook homemade meals in our cozy kitchen, while I instead learned to navigate crowded dining halls and communal bathrooms. Cinder block walls and tile flooring greeted me when I returned to my dorm after long days at the library, rather than my vivacious puppy who regularly showered me in kisses upon my returns from soccer and track practice in high school.

As Winter approached, cold walks around campus made me long for warm hugs from my mother even more. Needless to say, home felt far out of my reach. However, Lasagna Love presented me with the opportunity to grasp this comfort I desperately craved. Eventually, I even encouraged a few friends to sign up to cook with me. When we received our match, we were excited to be able to provide a delicious meal to a family in need.

What I did not realize was, how cooking a meal with my close friend would also fulfill my own need to feel a sense of home.

Cooking the lasagna was not simply creating a cheesy pasta dish for an unknown family in our area. It was an experience. As we layered the fluffy ricotta mixture between sheets of pasta, my friends and I laughed and chatted about funny stories and inside jokes. The heat from the oven filled the kitchen as we baked our lasagna, accompanied by the inviting aroma of garlic and cheese. As our lasagna baked, we listened to music and danced around the kitchen. Memories were made as we struggled to find the recipient’s home, later to find out that we had been circling it for an hour. By taking pause from the hectic college routine of late nights and school work, cooking this meal offered a comforting familiarity. This sense of home provided the fuel that I needed to keep my head up and effort high during a less-than-normal first semester.

A simple act of kindness can benefit the volunteer as much as it does the recipients. For me, simply signing up to cook a lasagna allowed me to feel the sense of home and family that I had craved during a hectic first semester of school. While it can be difficult to set aside time from busy schedules and overwhelming circumstances, Lasagna Love shows the importance of stepping back from one’s own life to lend a helping hand. No act is too small, and the rewarding feelings are much greater.