By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Lasagna Love" is a national movement that is spreading kindness during the pandemic. As Heidi Stevens reports, anyone can go to "lasagnalove.org/request and request a free, homemade lasagna to be delivered to their home or workplace. ("Lost income, lost childcare, lost sanity — we're here to help," the website states.)"
Marci Sieracki is a certified public accountant with 8- and 5-year-old daughters e-learning at home and, lately, a couple of lasagnas in the oven.
Back in September, Sieracki saw a Facebook post about Lasagna Love, a national movement founded by San Diego mom Rhiannon Menn.
It works like this: People who've been affected by the coronavirus pandemic (so, everyone) can go to lasagnalove.org/request and request a free, homemade lasagna to be delivered to their home or workplace. ("Lost income, lost childcare, lost sanity — we're here to help," the website states.)
People who want to bake and deliver those lasagnas can go to lasagnalove.org/lasagnamama and sign up for a shift or two — or 20. Sieracki fell into the latter category, baking lasagnas and arranging contactless deliveries to grateful families around Chicago within days of seeing that first Facebook post.
"Right away I thought, 'I need to do this,'" Sieracki said. "Food has always been my love language, so the thought of spreading kindness through food felt right to me."
Soon enough she found herself taking over regional leader duties, overseeing the volunteer efforts for all of Chicago and the northern suburbs from her Roscoe Village home. She has baked or helped arrange the delivery of about 250 lasagnas in two months, she estimates.
Next week alone she has arranged for 132 lasagnas to be delivered to homes around Chicago and the suburbs.
"It's been so awesome to see how much these communities really care about each other," she said. "It's blown me away."
Much of her time is spent on outreach — contacting social workers and local food pantries to locate families in need, posting about Lasagna Love in various neighborhood Facebook groups, asking folks she knows to spread the word.
"It's really helped me, mentally, during a time when so many things feel out of control," she said.
The help is not limited to people whose problems are directly pandemic-related.
"Anyone who asks for help, we want to help them," Sieracki said. "We've had people who have a spouse in the hospital, someone going through chemotherapy, someone who's out of work, someone who has COVID, someone having a really bad week stuck working at home with the kids remote learning."
Part of the power and beauty of the project, she said, is that it chips away at the stigma around asking for help.
"I've had people private message me and say, 'Do I qualify?'" Sieracki said.
"If you're asking for help, you qualify. Sometimes having someone do one act of kindness so your family can sit around a table and eat a home-cooked meal together makes all the difference."
Celeste Bryant is a recent Lasagna Love beneficiary. She's a customer service representative with a heating and ventilation company and single mom of two kids, ages 4 and 5. She leaves the house at 6:30 a.m. to drop her kids at day care, works a full day, picks her kids up from day care and returns home around 6 p.m.
She did before she got COVID-19, anyway. For the last couple weeks, she's been recovering at home, where her kids have also been quarantining with her.
She requested a lasagna after seeing a post in an Albany Park Facebook group. Her lasagna arrived with a salad, dressing, a loaf of bread and a pumpkin dessert.
"It was so nice for someone to take the time out of their day to help us," Bryant said.
Sieracki said volunteers accommodate recipients' dietary needs and preferences — yep, lasagna can be both gluten-free and vegan. And she said they often try to include sides and desserts.
"Chicago really wants to take care of each other," she said. "It's been nice to see how much love is out there."
On Sunday, five volunteers are pooling their efforts to deliver a batch of lasagnas to health care workers at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park — a gesture of post-Thanksgiving gratitude for some local heroes.
Sieracki doesn't see Lasagna Love ending anytime soon, regardless of how long this pandemic is shaping our days.
"I think it's going to continue," she said. "People can always use a home-cooked meal and some kindness. I just see it growing. I don't see it ending." We'll remember (and rue) a lot of things about 2020. I hope that alongside all of the terrible, we always remember the warmth and generosity and collective healing that took root and continued to blossom and spread, undaunted by the darkest of conditions. ___ Join the Heidi Stevens Balancing Act Facebook group, where she continues the conversation around her columns and hosts occasional live chats.
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