One inspiring woman is cooking up layers of love (and cheese).

By Hana Hong
July 02, 2020
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If there’s one thing we can all agree on right now, it’s that food has an uncanny way of bringing people closer together. One woman in Gig Harbor, Wash., has done just that—and her humble efforts to feed her community with a classic Italian dish in the midst of the pandemic has served up a massive dish of inspiration.

Brenner, like many others, was furloughed from her job at a menswear store in Washington due to the coronavirus pandemic. But instead of letting that discourage her, she decided to utilize the extra time on her hands to help the elderly in her community. Since they were finding it difficult to arrange for grocery shopping, she began to work as a shopper for Instacart, a grocery delivery and pickup service. 

"I knew it was my time in my life to give back to the people who paved life's path for me to have the 45 years of life that I've had," she told CNN.

She only spent two days working with the grocery delivery app, but during that time she realized that there was one item that shoppers ordered very frequently: frozen lasagna. As someone with Sicilian family roots, she wasn’t the biggest fan of the frozen version of the classic Italian meal. When Brenner delivered this order to a customer in his late 90s, he told her that he had not eaten fresh food in more than 50 days. That inspired Brenner to make her family a fresh lasagna based on her grandmother's recipe.

Once the lasagna was out of the oven, she did what most of us have been doing in quarantine—snapped a picture of the mouthwatering meal and uploaded it on social media. But, she also decided to do something atypical by offering to make freshly cooked lasagna and deliver it entirely free of charge to anyone who needed it.

The post on her community Facebook page read: "You have a die-hard Italian living in your town who loves lasagna, and if anybody needs one or wants one, I'd love to make you one and I'll even deliver it for free."

A retired neighbor and unemployed friend were the first to take her up on the generous offer. But word spread quickly—and soon enough Brenner had hundreds of requests on her hands. Despite the high volume of requests, she went to the store and spent her $1,200 stimulus check on ingredients to start cooking. 

So far, she has made more than 1,275 pans of lasagna for friends, neighbors, first responders, and anyone in need of a good fresh meal—without asking for a single dime in return. Her selfless cooking has deemed her the title of “Lasagna Lady” around town.

"The whole point of this is to spread that sense of community wherever we can through the comfort of lasagna," said Brenner. "So, I don't want anybody to feel [not included] because in reality there are people out there who can't afford a dollar."

Although making that many lasagna pans is a huge task, Brenner says her work is a one-woman operation. She spends 8-14 hours every day doing all the cooking herself, with an average output of 15-25 lasagnas a day, and has spent the last three months working without taking a single day off. She even began dropping off the pans for essential workers at the local hospital and fire departments.

However, she has received a little help: After the president of the Gig Harbor Sportsman’s Club heard about her generous act, she was granted free use of a clubhouse kitchen at the Gig Harbor Sportsman's club, allowing her to grow her operation from her home kitchen.

Many people in her community also wanted to chip in, and they organized a series of online fundraisers to help Brenner keep the operation going. Over the last nine weeks, Brenner said they raised more than $23,000 for the cause, which translates into a whopping 1,275 pans of lasagna. Even Stouffer's (a leading brand of frozen lasagnas that inspired Brenner to start this project) reached out to thank Brenner for what she was doing and offer their support.

For Brenner, making lasagna is more than just another meal. It creates an opportunity for family members to bond. She tells CNN that one family cried when she arrived on Easter because without the lasagna, they told her they did not have enough money to celebrate the holiday this year. Another woman told Brenner that she donated lasagna to the nurses taking care of her mother in an Alzheimer's ward.

She doesn't know how her lasagna movement will end, but Brenner says she hopes to be able to feed 50,000 people delicious pans of her cheesy noodles. You can help the Lasagna Lady continue feeding her community by donating to the fundraiser on Facebook.

“The world as we know it is falling apart, but my two little hands are capable of making a difference,” Brenner told the Washington Post. “I can’t change the world, but I can make lasagna.”