Nicole Maitland, of Napoleon, is a Lasagna Chef with a non-profit organization known as Lasagna Love. Pictured above, left, browning some burger for a homecooked meal and to the right Nicole and her mother, who inspired her cooking abilities and was known for her home-cooked lasagna.
By Christine MacIntyre
Stacked layers of alternating pasta strips, melty cheeses, and meaty tomato sauce make up the classic backed Italian dish that hits all the required pleasure points of comfort food – lasagna. Every rich bite is like a hug for your tastebuds. What’s better? When you don’t have to cook it yourself.
Napoleon resident Nicole Maitland embraces the notion of “cooking up kindness” as she volunteers her time to the global nonprofit and grassroots movement known as Lasagna Love. Her role as a volunteer allows her to spread kindness and positively impact community members who need it through serving up home-cooked lasagna.
With over 20,000 volunteers serving 50 states, Lasagna Love currently serves about 3,500 meals per week. Founded at the head of the pandemic, the organization aims to feed families, spread kindness, and strengthen communities. Many families face food insecurity, but Lasagna Love’s mission extends beyond providing this basic need. Their focus on simple acts of love and kindness, especially during times daunted with uncertainty, stress, and illness, is much needed in communities across the country. (more below)
As a stay-at-home mom of two children, Maitland’s desire to connect and become involved in the community led her to Lasagna Love. “I read about Lasagna Love randomly on a blog . . . in May 2021,” she says.
She was drawn to the idea, in large part, because of her mother, who passed away in 2010. “Lasagna was her specialty dish,” she says. “When I was reading about [Lasagna Love], it felt like a great way to engage with the community, help other people, and feel my missed connection with my mom.”
While most of the meals she’s cooked and delivered are lasagna, Maitland says she cooked a baked macaroni and cheese dish for a family with several young kids. “I also made a vegan lasagna for a family one time; that was challenging and kind of fun to do.”
The process is relatively simple. Maitland logs in to the volunteer portal to receive the family’s information, then texts to coordinate delivery. “If I don’t hear back within a day or so, I give them a call. If there’s no response, then I can request their email from my regional leader,” says Maitland.
“Once I get in touch with the family and make sure they are still interested, we figure out a time that works for both of us.” She tries to accommodate various schedules by providing a few options for delivery dates and times. Delivery is contactless to ensure the safety of both parties.
“If there is a reason I can’t [cook/deliver] that week, I can either change my availability on the portal or email the regional leader,” she says. “[Volunteers] enter a distance radius that we are willing to deliver within, so matches are made within that parameter.” (more below)
Interested patrons can sign up to receive a home-cooked meal online by simply answering a few basic questions and expressing a need. Individuals can also nominate others to receive a meal.
Volunteers supply the ingredients; however, there are sponsorship levels patrons can opt into on the Lasagna Love website. The various levels act as either a virtual tip jar, support for background operations, or as sponsorship for a Lasagna Chef (volunteer) to help reimburse them for groceries. Higher sponsorship levels allow Lasagna Chefs to make and deliver even more home-cooked meals to more families, and for Lasagna Love as a company to expand to new cities and reach more struggling families. Donations are tax-deductible, as this is a 501(c)3 company.
Maitland says her cooking ability came from her mom, although she has never been able to recreate her mom’s secret lasagna recipe. “Personally, I don’t really like lasagna, except hers. I always ate hers,” she says. “As to what made [my mom’s lasagna] special – I don’t really know. It was something everyone seemed to love, and she would always make it for others.”
Participating in Lasagna Love has been rewarding for Maitland. “We all have times in our lives where just a little bit of help can make a huge difference.” Not all requests for meals are due to financial hardships as there are a variety of circumstances people face that indicate a need for a little help.
While she doesn’t always receive a response post-delivery, she occasionally receives a thank you text or a compliment about the food. “I once delivered a lasagna, and there was a card on the porch with my name on it. It was a thank you card, but the [individual] shared more of [their] story and asked me to direct [them] to where [they] could participate when things turned around in [their] life.”
While she hasn’t personally known any of the people she has helped so far, Maitland says it feels wonderful to know she is bettering people’s lives by doing something simple and easy for her to do. “Doing this almost gives me an extra level of value to the people around me.”
To learn more about the Lasagna Love organization and its mission, or to donate to their cause, visit lasagnalove.org.