When I moved to Northport eight years ago, I was greeted on my front stoop by Stanley, the original owner of the house next door, a wonderful man nearing his 80s who welcomed me to the neighborhood with one of his homemade lasagnas.
It was the first of many acts of kindness Stanley and his wife Jeanette shared with me over the years. We had arrived in Northport as a family of three; my daughter was just 18 months old. It was our first home and we were completing major renovations. I was happy, but also tired and overwhelmed. That lasagna came in handy, and Stanley’s small act of kindness had a lasting impact on me.
So when I saw last month a post on social media about Lasagna Love, an international nonprofit organization with volunteers right here in Northport and East Northport, I smiled. I smiled in memory of Stanley and Jeanette, as I imagined that same kindness once shared with me now reverberating amongst neighbors – our neighbors.
Leaders at Lasagna Love believe that kindness has a powerful network effect; I agree.
“When we launched Lasagna Love, our mission was to provide comfort during a time of uncertainty,” said Rhiannon Menn, the organization’s founder. “As we move into our third year of operation, we recognize that our true power is so much greater. We are inspiring pay-it-forward acts of kindness across communities and increasing feelings of connectedness and support among neighbors.”
Dix Hills resident Lauren Chizner was watching television in September of 2020 when she saw Rhiannon on The Today Show. Rhiannon explained how creating Lasagna Love was prompted by the COVID-related struggles of families in her Californian community and her own feeling of helplessness. Lauren immediately signed up to be a volunteer chef. Soon enough, Lasagna Love went viral; the organization has since transformed into an international movement of kindness, impacting thousands of volunteers and recipient families each week. Lauren became Lasagna Love’s regional leader of Long Island when there were less than a dozen volunteers in the area. She now manages close to 200 chefs, matching volunteer lasagna makers with a list of recipients every Monday.
“We’re not necessarily changing the world by providing a meal, but we are hoping to provide some kindness, and share some love and ease the struggle even just for a night,” said Lauren. “Need comes in so many different ways.”
It’s those ways that prompted Wendy Hentze to become a volunteer chef herself. The lifetime Northport/East Northport resident got involved with Lasagna Love early on in the pandemic; she had extra time, loved to cook and was especially drawn to the organization’s “no reason needed” policy.
Yes, there were plenty of Covid-related needs, she said, with people feeling shut in and isolated, or struggling financially. But it was those often neglected needs that really drew her in and connected with her.
“Maybe there’s a mother who is exhausted. Maybe there's a mother who has had to homeschool her kids for the first time in her life and hasn’t sat down the whole day,” Wendy said. “That spoke to me for some reason. And I thought there are so many reasons to give somebody something like a lasagna – and five minutes to themselves. I just thought it was brilliant.”
The Lasagna Love website’s request page states that kindness is for everyone. “No matter the reason for the need, your community wants to help,” it reads. “Let a neighbor deliver a home-cooked lasagna or main dish to your family one night.”
Wendy, who is one of three volunteer chefs in the Northport/East Northport area, bases her lasagnas off of her mother’s recipe, and uses her mother’s sauce, occasionally swapping ground turkey for ground beef. She has delivered meals to neighbors recovering from surgery, those ill and housebound, people having financial troubles and others who could simply use a hand.
“It’s so simple for me,” she said. “I adore cooking, I especially love cooking something I don’t need a recipe for and that I know is good.” She loves the process, from learning of a recipient, reaching out and connecting with a neighbor in need, and then delivering the meal.
“The whole thing from beginning to end, by the time you drop off the lasagna, you just feel so good,” she said.
Lasagna Love, which turned two on March 28, 2022, reported more than 200,000 meal deliveries to date – even as the world emerges into a nuanced, post-pandemic climate. As of its anniversary, Lasagna Love noted that it has fed over 850,000 people.
“The definition of struggle may differ from household to household, however through our work, Lasagna Love has learned that even as we move beyond the immediacy of the Covid crisis, acts of kindness are always a welcome sight. Humans strive to be connected, and that connectivity is a gift,” said Rhiannon.
To learn more about Lasagna Love, request a lasagna, or nominate a person/family to receive one, visit the Lasagna Love website here.