Frozen lasagna is the staple of harried mothers and single people who want a bit of comfort food without the backbreaking labor that a “real” Italian meal would take. It’s like frozen pizza: convenient, but lacking in authenticity and often as tasty as the packaging it comes in.
But 45-year-old Michelle Brenner is here (or in Gig Harbor, Washington) to change that. Recently released from her job due to the coronavirus shutdown, she took her $1,200 stimulus check and her Italian heritage and decided to bring the real deal to the masses.
“My grandmother would never eat in an Italian restaurant — she knew that nothing she could order could compare to what she made by herself,” Brenner told The Washington Post. “Everything had to be fresh — she used her own tomatoes and herbs in her sauce. So I learned from the best.”
“Those warm smells help people to know that somebody cares about them. You can be in the most awful place in your life, and then a big plate of lasagna will provide some peace and hope.”
Brenner’s cooking bloomed from a kind heart: She’d already volunteered to make grocery runs for her neighbors. It was during one of those runs, though, that she realized many frozen lasagnas were being requested.
“I have to say the other day as I was shopping for others I noticed a ton of family size frozen lasagna being ordered,” she shared on a fundraiser page. “In no way is there a thing wrong with that other then that I am Italian and this breaks my heart in many ways lol. So I posted in my community social media offering to make fresh lasagna for people and the response has been awesome and so much fun to read.”
She cooked for neighbors. She cooked for strangers. She cooked for first responders.
So far, that’s added up to about 1,200 pans of deliciousness. And Brenner doesn’t skimp on them: These are hearty, heavy pans of pasta and meat and dairy — incredibly cheesy in just the right sort of way.
Charging nothing for her homemade lasagnas, Brenner instead asks for money from those who are able to give. She started several Facebook fundraisers and accepted donations upon pickup, and according to The Post has been gifted a total of $22,000 that she has used to churn out more pans of lasagna.
Soon the demand outpaced what Brenner could cook up in her own personal kitchen, so the local Gig Harbor Sportsman’s Club stepped up.
“We saw what a great thing she was doing, and we have this nice commercial kitchen that wasn’t being used because of COVID,” Le Rodenberg, the club’s president, said. “She decided to do what she could for the community instead of sit at home. I can tell you that she takes extra care with every one of those lasagnas.”
“It’s a pan of love,” Brenner agreed. “A lot of the people I make lasagna for have lost their jobs, and this is my way of saying, ‘I understand and I’m here for you.'”
Initially, she encountered some looks when she started stocking up on ingredients at the store, but she wasn’t stockpiling for herself.
“Now when people see me loading up, they know that I’m not hoarding,” Brenner explained. “And when there’s a shortage of something, like ground beef or pasta, all I have to do is put the word out and somebody will find it for me in another county.”
Her neighbor even customized a black shirt for her that has “Lasagna Lady” emblazoned across the front in fun, hot pink letters. It suits her.
Brenner is a brilliant example of how you can bless people with your unique strengths and talents. Something as basic and necessary as a meal, when made by loving and skilled hands, turns into something magical.
“The world as we know it is falling apart, but my two little hands are capable of making a difference,” she said.
“I can’t change the world, but I can make lasagna.”
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