How this furloughed 'lasagna lady' is comforting her community with free food

The single mom from Gig Harbor, Washington has assembled 1,200 free meals so far.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Rachel Paula Abrahamson

When Michelle Brenner was furloughed from her retail job in March, she began grocery shopping for the people who are most at risk for contracting COVID-19.

The 45-year-old Gig Harbor, Washington resident was happy to offer her services free of charge.

“There was this sense of panic in my area and I felt it was my call of duty to help," Brenner told TODAY Food.

After a few days, Brenner noticed that she was getting a lot of requests for lasagna, a dish she grew up making from scratch in her Italian grandmother's kitchen.

“If any of you want some fresh homemade, no calorie counting lasagna, please let me know and I will gladly prepare it,” Brenner wrote on her community Facebook page.

The single mom used her entire $1,200 stimulus check to buy ingredients.

“Within a day or two, I had a few orders,” Brenner said.

But a week later, Brenner, who is now known in her town as the “Lasagna Lady,” could barely keep up with the demand. She assembled 60 lasagnas over Easter weekend in her 10-by-10-foot kitchen with no assistance.

Since March, Brenner has whipped up roughly 1,200 vegetarian and meat lasagnas. All the recipient has to do is pop their lasagna in an oven when they get home.

The majority of the people Brenner serves are elderly or low-income — but not all.

“It’s everybody and anybody,” she explained. “Some people just don’t want to cook. Some are afraid to leave their house. One man came by who had just lost his father and his young son.”

For the past five weeks, Brenner has been been working out of a commercial kitchen at the Gig Harbor Sportsman’s Club. When the club’s president, Le Rodenberg, got word about what Brenner was doing, he offered her the space.

But Rodenberg isn’t the only one rallying around Brenner. She will be making lasagnas for as long as there's a demand, thanks to more than than $22,000 in donations. Brenner said she is "honored and humbled" by the response.

“People say they can taste the love I put in the layers and that it brings them comfort," she said.

Along the way, Brenner has also found comfort in her own lasagna.

“I made lasagna 90 days in a row without a day off and it never felt like a job to me. I always wanted to be there," Brenner told TODAY. "I healed myself by getting to know my community. I fixed things (inside of myself) that I couldn't have paid a doctor or therapist to fix. I just feel so fortunate for the experience."