Local chefs share the love, one lasagna at a time

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Laurie Appelbaum brings home-cooked meals to people struggling during the pandemic. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

One morning in September when Laurie Appelbaum and her husband Dennis were drinking coffee and reading the newspaper in their Flower Mound home, a segment on NBC’s “Today Show” caught their attention.

The segment featured Rhiannon Menn who founded Lasagna Love, a grass-roots volunteer organization that tries to alleviate stress and food insecurity for families impacted by COVID-19. The initiative also allowed Menn to show her young children how to give back as they helped her prepare and deliver the meals.

It had been a tough previous year for Appelbaum as not only did she lose her father and stepbrother to COVID in July, her mother died at the end of 2019, as did her two dogs this past year.

“After my dad passed away I was really mad. I was mad at everybody and everything,” said Appelbaum, who works in sales and business development for Fiserv, a large financial technology services company.

“I had a right to be mad. I felt what happened might have been preventable. I know what COVID did to my family and if I could make it a little better for someone else to not go through that or feel better I was going to do it.”

Appelbaum said she loves to cook anyway and Lasagna Love is a way to help others who have experienced what she has.

“I saw the segment and said, ‘I can make lasagna.’ I reached out to Lasagna Love and they got back to me and I did my first delivery back in October. I was asked if I would consider being a regional leader and since I cannot say no, I did it,” said Appelbaum, currently one of five Lasagna Love regional leaders in Texas.

“I have volunteered for many organizations and this is one of the most organized. Rhiannon has just done a tremendous job in the short time Lasagna Love has been around. She is very organized. People get back to you very quickly. Everyone is such a joy to work with. We’re all in this together to help each other out.”

Appelbaum oversees a group of about 30 “Lasagna Mama’s and Papa’s” who make and deliver the pans to a region extending from Duncanville to the south to the Oklahoma border to the north. Each week she receives a list of requests from an algorithm which matches the cooks to those requesting the dish. It even lists dietary restrictions for the family receiving the lasagna.

Then she and her team, which includes about 15 in the Flower Mound/Highland Village/Lewisville area, prepare anywhere from one lasagna per month to 4-5 a week. Appelbaum said recipients are very grateful.

“Giving something like this is so small in the big scheme of things,” she said.

Lasagna Love doesn’t just benefit those who have or have had the disease or lost their job because of it.

“It has affected us in a lot of ways,” she said. “It could be you used to work in an office and now you are at home and trying to homeschool and run a house and work and you are just exhausted. We totally understand that. It’s overwhelming to be home with your kids and do a job and keep up with what’s going on. If you are tired or you have had your hours cut and you are struggling financially, no matter what, we will send you some Lasagna Love.

“One of the nice things too is if you know someone you can nominate them. We use the term nominate very loosely because if you do we are going to help them.”

For a while, Appelbaum had too many cooks and not enough people requesting help but by early December that changed to where she was matching 20 families to cooks. She knows there is more need especially after seeing recent videos on television of the long lines at food banks. As needs are increasing, more cooks are needed to sign up.

“We have so many people who want to give and even though not a lot of people are asking, I know the need is there,” she said. “I personally know people who have been affected job-wise and health-wise by this and certainly could use a hand. We are lucky to live in the area we do but I know there are people around here who may be reluctant to ask for help.”

For more information about the organization, visit lasagnalove.org.

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