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West Jordan Journal

Nourishing her community, one lasagna at a time

Aug 10, 2023 10:56AM ● By Julie Slama

A Sandy woman, Deea Hobbs, has perfected her lasagna recipe while making dinner for people who sign up for the meal. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Every week for the past two years, Deea Hobbs has taken hours to shop and cook lasagna from scratch.

She has perfected her original recipe and often, generously bakes homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies to the meal.

Then, she drops off the dinner to a stranger.

It’s called Lasagna Love.

While Hobbs didn’t come up with the concept to provide this meal service to people, she may have mastered it.

The founder is Rhiannon Menn, who, concerned about food insecurity in her Hawaiian community in 2020, started cooking and delivering homemade dishes to those in need. To her surprise, that snowballed; when others heard of her generosity, they asked if they could cook and deliver hot meals.

Those acts of kindness became a nonprofit, which has turned into a global phenomenon of people reaching out, serving each other. Now, more than 350,000 lasagnas have been served to more than 1.5 million people by more than 45,000 volunteers worldwide, according to the Lasagna Love website.

Hobbs, a Sandy realtor, learned about Lasagna Love from one of her clients, who also provides lasagna on a regular basis.

“It was COVID, and we stopped going to church, so I really missed connecting with people through service,” she said. “When one of my clients posted about it on Instagram, I thought that’s exactly what I need. It’s perfect for me. So, I signed up and started volunteering.”

And recruiting. Hobbs’ sister, in Jacksonville, Florida, and her niece, who lives in Oklahoma, also are part of the Lasagna Love team.

“I’m kind of obsessed with it. I’m always recruiting more people, finding new volunteers, and more people who need the lasagna. I’m now the local leader or the Lasagna Love boss for 10 counties in Utah,” she said.

Hobbs has encouraged people to pledge to spread the word. As a grassroots effort, “Lasagna Love weaves kindness into communities by simple acts of love and from one human to another,” Hobbs said.

On a regular basis, she will drive around to community refrigerators — those that sit in someone’s driveway as a spot to donate or for those who are in need, to get food — and put fliers up about how to sign up for Lasagna Love.

“Even though the pandemic is over, people still need food. The need is just not pandemic-related. I’ve delivered lasagna to people in tents, and I’ve delivered lasagna to mansions. There are no questions asked, no judgment. Sometimes you don’t know what their needs are. Sometimes their needs are lasagna — and they have food in their fridge, but they just needed lasagna and that’s OK. Sometimes, people are desperate for food and lasagna is that needed meal and we’re happy to give them that. We don’t ask their situation or need. We’re just here to provide a meal and to serve. All they have to do is sign up and we’ll deliver them a lasagna,” Hobbs said. 

Her fliers have a QR code so people can scan it or they can go to the website, and sign up or sign up someone else. By filling out a simple online form, available in English and Spanish, with name, address, phone number, number of adults and children, allergies, an option to share about themselves and agree to consent, it starts the process of pairing the requestee with a volunteer chef.

Hobbs has posted about Lasagna Love on Facebook groups and provided food pantries and service organizations cards about the meals. She’s reached out to families who have babies in the neonatal intensive care units or long-term facilities and to those who provide foster care. She has included cards when dropping off Toys for Tots donations during the holidays. 

She has given the opportunity to help serve the community to others, including teaming up with a local Girl Scout troop to make lasagna this month.

“I love offering this as a source, one people can use, but also one for others to use as they serve. I love connecting with other nonprofits,” Hobbs said.

Her 30 volunteers — some working professionals, some retired — set their own schedules. Some may provide lasagna a couple times per week, others, monthly. They may only be able to drive within a 5-mile radius or they may be willing to drive 50 miles. If she doesn’t have someone in a remote area who requested it, she will reach out to churches, social and service organizations to ask for someone to volunteer. Some volunteers may be willing to bake a vegetarian or special order lasagna while others stick to traditional recipes.

“I’ve had people who sign up for lasagna and they live in the middle of nowhere, but they’re thinking it’s not going to happen. But it does; we really try,” she said. “It helps them, and I love how this has changed our volunteers. It has impacted me. It’s inspiring to help people. It’s a ‘pay it forward’ thing. It’s uplifting.”

Knowing her volunteers’ perimeters, Hobbs helps create weekly assignments to fill about 100 requests monthly in her region. 

“It isn’t a big deal because it’s what I love. It’s the easiest volunteer gig if you like to cook and you can adjust your budget because it is all self-run. Nobody is giving me money to buy groceries for lasagna; it’s just something I do. It fills the need for people who need lasagna and fills my need to serve people,” Hobbs said.

Volunteers generally reach out to those who request the lasagna within 24 hours to arrange a day and time for the delivery. 

“We’ll ask, ‘Will somebody be available at that time to collect the lasagna?’ It’s contactless for the most part. But sometimes, people will come out when I arrive and they may be crying, hugging me, giving me cards. Or they’ll respond saying, ‘It’s the best lasagna I’ve ever had,’ or ‘I haven’t had a hot meal in a week.’ That is very sweet, but it’s not expected,” she said. “Sometimes, there will be people who I don’t meet, and I never hear from them again and that’s totally fine too. I’m not doing this for someone to show me gratitude. I’m just doing this because I want people to know that they’re not alone. That is a message that I want to give them. I want people to know the world doesn’t suck. Maybe it will ease the burden for just one night and let them know somebody cares.”

Hobbs feels most at home in a kitchen.

“My kitchen has always been a safe place for me. It’s my favorite place. As a kid, I would get my mom’s cookbooks out and pour over them to find a recipe with ingredients we already had, and I would cook,” she said.

Hobbs said it stemmed from her upbringing.

“I was raised in Indiana by a single mom who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, but she always made sure that we were fed with good, homemade food. She inspired me to cook, but I also come from a long line of people who shared food and cooked. My mom would have every flat surface covered in trays of cookies to give to everyone. Every Valentine’s Day, she’d make the whole town heart-shaped cookies. We were at my grandma’s house for Sunday dinner with all my aunts, uncles, cousins — 30 of us, every single Sunday, and if somebody was new at church or was in need, they were invited to come over too. My mom, even though she didn’t have a lot of resources, she fed people. She credits God for everything, but that was her mission. She still does it and she’s 78. It’s a powerful lesson,” she said.

Now, Hobbs is sharing that same gift.

“Food is comfort and people need comfort and connection. I always felt safe when I had a warm, homemade meal that my mother prepared, and I want people to have that same feeling. I like to help people, and this is a great way to do it,” she said. “It helps me as I have a need to help people. It gets me outside of myself and helps me see different perspectives. It helps me be grateful for what I have.”

Some of Hobbs’ volunteers incorporate making lasagna into their work, such as an occupational therapist who prepares a lasagna each week with a patient so that it helps with their motor skills, she said.

Sandy resident Alex Mettler has made 27 deliveries since he joined during the pandemic. He often has his two children help him make the lasagna and they include a note, that lists the ingredients and is signed by each chef.

“Before this, I felt there were other things I could do to help the community besides being a teacher,” he said. “When a friend told me about this, I knew it was something I could easily do since I like to cook and it’s on my own time so I can make it work with my teaching schedule. I’ve made lasagna now so many times that I don’t look at a recipe and I’ve tweaked it to make it a little better each time.”

Mettler said many of his deliveries are in Midvale by Hillcrest High, where he teaches.

“It makes me feel good that I can help somebody. When they text me or if I see them, they’re just appreciative; it feels good to help. I’ve dropped lasagnas off at motel rooms; when they open the door and I see there’s a family there, I know it must be tough,” he said. “For me, it’s worth it to help. I buy items in bulk from the big bags of cheese from Costco to the 30-pack of foil lasagna pans from Amazon, so it becomes more economical. I tell my students about it at the beginning of the year; cooking is one of my ways to handle stress, so it’s a bit selfish, but I enjoy doing it. “

Hobbs will often deliver lasagnas with her husband.

“He knows the kitchen is my sacred place, but together, we can deliver,” she said. 

Often those deliveries result in connections with people. 

“I’ve delivered to hotels downtown that serve as overflow for the shelters and I’ve delivered to a lady who was a double amputee and couldn’t get to work. A lot of people are just not able to prepare food at all and live on TV dinners and frozen meals. The people who don’t get hot food are excited and tell me, ‘I haven’t had lasagna for 20 years,’” Hobbs said. “I like connecting with people, but when I hear some of the sad stories, I’m heartbroken for them.”

She takes a day off work each week for Lasagna Love, to make and delivery the lasagnas.

“I have a garden with tomatoes, zucchini and basil plants so I can make fresh homemade sauce for the lasagna,” she said. “I love creating and sharing food.”

To top off the gift of lasagna, Hobbs will create a heart out of pepperoni slices or red peppers on the top of the meal.

“It is Lasagna Love, after all.” λ