Who doesn’t love lasagna?
An international organization that shares the tasty Italian goodness – Lasagna Love – has been shown the love by Royal Neighbors of America, a women-led fraternal benefit society based in Rock Island.
It recently presented Rhiannon Menn, founder and CEO of Lasagna Love, with a Nation of Neighbors empowerment award and $10,000 grant.
Nation of Neighbors is Royal Neighbors’ signature women’s empowerment program, and its recipients are influential leaders who exemplify the Royal Neighbors “neighbor-helping-neighbor” mission of community service.
To date, Royal Neighbors has awarded more than $2.5 million in Nation of Neighbors grants nationwide.
During the pandemic, Rhiannon Menn of San Diego was looking for a way to help other moms. She began cooking extra meals and leaving them on community members’ doorsteps. “One thing led to another, and I found myself at the head of a global nonprofit organization responsible for connecting thousands of people each week through homemade meal delivery,” Menn said in a Royal Neighbors release.
Lasagna Love (which provides free homemade lasagnas across the U.S., Canada and Australia) has a three-part mission: to feed families, spread kindness, and strengthen communities. “We deliver kindness in the form of a lasagna pan. For some, it fulfills the need of a hungry belly, and for others, the need of a hungry soul,” Menn said.
Rhiannon was nominated for the award and grant by Royal Neighbors employee and member Ann Lembke of Geneseo, who has delivered over 20 lasagnas to families through Lasagna Love in 2023. To increase the impact she was making, Ann applied for the Royal Neighbors Difference Maker Fund (DMF).
“I realized this program would allow me to make more lasagnas and serve more families,” Lembke said.
“Rihannon’s work has empowered thousands of women on both a micro and macro level,” she wrote in her nomination submission. “Not only has it empowered people – especially women – who are most commonly caretakers – to ask for help…Rihannon’s work has also empowered 300 volunteer leaders – most of whom are also women – to impact their own communities as part of the organization she built.”
“Rihannon’s work is the epitome of the Royal Neighbors mission,” said Royal Neighbors of America CEO and president Zarifa Reynolds. “She connects neighbors-with-neighbors in communities across the globe.”
Lasagna Love intends to use the grant to alleviate expenses linked to its recently developed volunteer platform, Project Ricotta. This initiative is a collaborative, open-source effort aimed at constructing a top-tier volunteer portal and app.
“This project will help address challenges limiting our ability to continue to grow – like improving volunteer utilization and engagement, managing hyperlocal spikes in supply and demand, and enabling our volunteer leaders to leverage data,” Menn said.
With the new volunteer portal, Lasagna Love expects to feed 1 million people annually by 2025. “From age 7 to 70, from all walks of life, our community of volunteer chefs has mobilized a true kindness movement that is touching the lives of countless individuals,” she said.
The nonprofit has joined together more than 48,000 active volunteers from around the world and abides by three simple principles: feed families, spread kindness and strengthen communities.
Kristle Connell of Donahue, Iowa, is Lasagna Love’s local leader for eastern Iowa, overseeing an army of about 40 volunteers in 13 counties – including Clinton, Dubuque and the Quad Cities. She started as a volunteer cook during the COVID pandemic in October 2021, after seeing a social media post about the group.
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking. So it’s a good fit for me,” Connell said Friday. “Anyone can sign up for a meal — anybody in need. It could be anybody that is ill or financially struggling or just people that need a break. They can sign up for a meal once a month, online through the website, and no questions are asked.”
They are matched with a volunteer who provides contactless delivery of a lasagna – and volunteers drive between 5 and 50 miles to give the home-cooked meal.
“And the nice thing about the volunteering is, it’s very flexible. So volunteers can determine how often they wanna do it,” Connell said. She’s a mother of two – a 28-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son, and her daughter also volunteers for the group.
The biggest need for Lasagna Love is getting more volunteers, especially in Clinton and the QC. To sign up, visit the website HERE.
“In the past couple of months, we’ve seen an uptick in orders and I don’t know if it’s winter or just people are having a hard time,” Connell said, noting Lasagna Love averages delivering 3,500 meals a week, and her region averages about 20 a week.
Connell said the Royal Neighbors recognition is well deserved.
“I’m not surprised because of how awesome Royal Neighbors is as well as how awesome Lasagna Love is,” she said.