The pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives, but a few people have answered the call to help others and spread kindness nationwide. Rhiannon Menn, a Mom of two small children, found an opportunity and a need in these trying times. “When the pandemic happened, I had so many people tell me that they were overwhelmed,” stated Menn. “I knew that there were other families and mamas who were overwhelmed with kids now learning at home, daycare gone, and their employer had sent them home to work. As I talked to other moms, I realized they were managing a lot of stress, anxiety, and some were battling depression. I wanted to do something. So, I thought, ‘I could cook a meal,’” Menn explained. Living in San Diego, she posted in two local Facebook groups offering a free homecooked meal. She got replies from seven moms who said, ‘I’d love a meal.’ “So I ordered buckets of food from Costco, made seven lasagna pans for people I didn’t know, drove around the city, and delivered these meals to strangers. That’s how Lasagna Love was born,” Menn said.
Fast forward nine months later, and Lasagna Love is cooking and delivering over 1,000 meals a week across the US. In the beginning, it was just Menn managing the people. To scale the organization, she needed a website and to create a database. “I’m no IT person,” noted Menn. “I just Googled everything, and then I taught myself.” She made the website with no prior experience. She also developed the database so that volunteers and recipients can sign up online. “I needed to pay for online website tools to coordinate all the volunteers and those requesting meals. The idea to turn this venture into a nonprofit took hold. If I became a nonprofit, I could raise funds to get the tools at a discount.”
Another area of concern Menn had was people cooking all over the country having no liability insurance. She knew it was essential to protect her volunteers, but not something she could pay for. She needed business advice and found a legal team to help. A friend of Lasagna Love referred her to attorneys Joe Hunt and Joe Morrow, who did the work probono. They filed at the end of September, warning Menn that it typically takes 9-12 months to become a nonprofit. To their surprise, they were awarded nonprofit status on Nov 14, 2020. “The attorneys did all the hard work and helped complete and file the forms. They advised me on all the steps in the process and that I needed to have officers in the nonprofit and to set up a Board of Directors. I follow all of their directions, and our nonprofit was launched.”
Being granted 501c3 nonprofit status has Menn thinking about growth at a different level. She ponders her desire to expand and help more families and the best ways to grow. Looking forward, she envisions hiring a team to help her. Many volunteers have stepped up, but Menn needs some specialized skills. As Lasagna Love is seeking sponsorships and grants, she hopes to attract some professionals with those needed skills. “A week after we got the nonprofit status, we received our first big donation of $10,000. Companies are now much more interested in partnering with us in providing financial help and in-kind donations for our volunteers.”
Menn runs the entire operation herself from home. She also cooks lasagna for other families each day. “You can learn so much if you want to,” she said. “One person can make a significant difference. If you have an idea –do it! Find the courage to start and put your idea out there. That is what I did. You never know where it could go. I launched a whole new meaningful career doing something I enjoy – cooking – and helping families out. This idea is here to stay, and I’m committed to seeing it grow as we show kindness to neighbors we just haven’t met yet.”
“All of this came from word of mouth and Facebook posts and sharing. Both cooks and recipients share. The cook volunteers their time, pay for their own ingredients, and delivers the meal. I knew that the recipients would be grateful, but what came as a surprise is how much this program has meant to the generous cooks. Initially, it was about feeding families. Somewhere along the way, that changed. It is evident to me now that this organization’s mission is actually about spreading kindness. Many recipients were so moved by getting dinner that they signed up to cook. Being kind to strangers had been a little lost before Covid hit. Such busy lives. After the pandemic came, things changed for everyone. Cooking lasagna and being kind to strangers has helped many during these challenging times. The widespread feeling of helping has given people a new purpose. Today, the core mission of Lasagna Love is to feed families, spread kindness, and strengthen communities.”
Menn says, “We do not judge anyone asking for a meal. Rich, poor, old, or sick — anyone can have personal reasons and tough circumstances. Lasagna mamas and papas try to help anyone who asks if we can.”
Anyone Can Start a Nonprofit
Menn created a blog called “Be Good to Mama” after the birth of her young children. “I wanted to adjust to my new role, and I felt I was missing parts of myself. Other Moms felt the same, and so my blog grew. Then the pandemic happened, and I began making meals for strangers. Social media seemed the easiest way to find people who would like a meal. So, Facebook is how I grew the organization. Everything came from people sharing,” she said. Even her 3½-year-old daughter Cimorene cares. She frequently asks, “Mama, can we make ‘asagna pasta? Are there ninos that are sad today?” Menn says that her daughter helps her cook. “The best part of all this is my children are learning about the importance of helping others and giving to strangers,” she shared.
If you want to have a nonprofit, consider if you can partner with someone who is doing what you want to do. Research other nonprofits as it is much easier to partner with another organization operating as a nonprofit. Collaborate first if you can. It’ll be an easier path. If you have a unique idea or you are filling a gap, then launch your idea. See if it grows and what needs it can serve. You want to be sure it’ll work before you go full steam ahead.
Menn found that cooking and delivering home-cooked meals, now that was something no one else was doing. “You do need a good head for business, and you must understand how to best market and spread the word. If you are lucky, a PR volunteer like we have can be amazingly helpful in getting your message out,” explained Menn.
An entrepreneurial mindset, along with a real passion, is beneficial too. “Contribution and helping others is in my DNA. I started cooking as a volunteer when I was seven, baking for the school and charity sales.”
I shared this story with two retirees. Mike had retired at age 55 last January with big plans for traveling and volunteering. Then Covid hit, and everything went out the window. He contacted me recently because he was bored and needed something meaningful to do. Jane, 58, had been an active volunteer at the Human Society during her first two years of retirement. Then she moved, and Covid hit. She was unhappily retired and asked if I knew of any volunteer activities she could do. Both retirees loved this idea and planned to sign up immediately. “We all need a purpose after we retire,” noted Jane. “Cooking for needy strangers is a great one.”