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Local volunteers spread Lasagna Love

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Marcia Duggan bakes lasagna in her Mountain Ranch home. She and the roughly 25 volunteer cooks she manages have delivered about 75 free lasagnas to area families since Jan. 1 as part of the nationwide Lasagna Love movement.

A nationwide movement that began in one woman’s kitchen during the onset of the pandemic has reached the Mother Lode in a big way.

Marcia Duggan, a retired restaurant owner living in Mountain Ranch, was the first to introduce Lasagna Love to the region. She learned about the organization on TV and signed up online. Now, she spends about 30 hours weekly baking lasagnas, delivering them to families and managing approximately 25 other volunteer cooks, “Lasagna Mamas and Papas,” who subsequently joined the movement.

Since Jan. 1, the group has baked and delivered roughly 75 lasagnas to area families, free of charge.

The Lasagna Love mission is simple: “feed families, spread kindness and strengthen communities.”

The idea was hatched by San Diego Area mother and blogger Rhiannon Menn when she was looking for a way to help her neighbors during the pandemic. The answer was an easy, homemade dish that can feed a whole family.

“Our mission is not only to help address the incredible rise in food insecurity among families, but also to provide a simple act of love and kindness during a time full of uncertainty and stress,” the Lasagna Love website reads.

For Duggan, it was immediately clear that her time and cooking skills should be donated to Lasagna Love, a cause which she and her “upbeat society of cooks” believe in wholeheartedly.

Signing up for Lasagna Love, either as a cook or a “customer,” is incredibly straightforward. Anyone can request one lasagna delivery per month, and home cooks will be connected to families seeking a meal in their area via the organization’s website.

The service isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some cooks offer to accommodate food allergies or preferences like gluten-free and vegetarian. And there is no specific type of family or individual who qualifies for a delivery.

“We’re not just here for people that are having financial problems. We’re here to alleviate stress,” Duggan said. “We deliver to frontline workers, (families where) both parents work at the hospital and their kids are homeschooling, and they come home all stressed out. For families like this, having a hot lasagna come to your doorstep is just a good break for people going through any kind of stress.”

Although cooks can set a limit on how far they will deliver, Duggan sometimes drives for hours to serve a family. Her band of cooks covers most of the Eastern Sierra, spanning from Modesto to Tahoe.

Duggan doesn’t speak directly to most of her customers due to the organization’s no-contact delivery service, but she still feels their gratitude each time.

“Almost every family that I’ve delivered to sends a text afterwards saying how special it was, how happy their kids were,” she said. “This has kind of become a full-time job for me. I enjoy it. I’m really getting a lot of satisfaction over seeing these families getting food.”

As the number of cooks and lasagna requests grow, Duggan believes Lasagna Love could outlast the pandemic. She said the cooks are too enthusiastic and the need is too great for the movement to end anytime soon.

In the near future, Duggan hopes to bring on cooks who are willing to deliver to Sonora, Modesto and Stockton in an effort to cover gaps in service throughout the region.

“We’re not going to solve world hunger here, but what we’re trying to do is bring a little brightness and kindness in people’s days,” she said. “A home-cooked meal that somebody sat down and prepared for them speaks a lot more to people who are struggling than going to a food bank and dropping off supplies. We’re trying to tell people we care.”

To request a delivery or sign up to cook for Lasagna Love, visit lasagnalove.org.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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