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By Lisa Bielmeier
Orleans/Niagara BOCES Public Relations Director
“Lasagna Love’s” mission says, “We believe that kindness, however big or small, is the key to strengthening our communities.”
That is a vision that Niagara Wheatfield Central School District and Wilson Central School District can get behind as they encourage their students to share that attitude.
Niagara Wheatfield CSD Superintendent Daniel Ljiljanich and Wilson CSD Superintendent Tim Carter are both members of the Niagara County Central Rotary Club (Ljiljanich is president). The object of the Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise.
The Rotarians recently had a guest speaker from “Lasagna Love.” The organization was founded in 2020 and connects neighbors, who are struggling, with home-cooked meal delivery from their community. This movement of kindness impacts thousands of volunteers and families each week through the United States.
“ ‘Lasagna Love’ exists to deliver comfort where we experience it most often – our family table – and to prove that even small displays of kindness can have profound and lasting impact,” founder Rhiannon Menn said.
Mr. Ljiljanich and Mr. Carter brought the idea back to their districts and presented it to their Interact Clubs. Niagara County Central Rotary Club sponsors and supports students’ community service activities if the clubs come up with a way to support the community around them.
NW Interact adviser Beth Pyskaty said they saw it as a good experience for their students to help the community.
“At Niagara Wheatfield, we are a family,” she said. “We saw this project as an opportunity to help people in our family have a nice meal with their family. Food is something that brings people together. We hope that our family members that received the meals had time to enjoy conversation with their loved ones over a nice lasagna.”
Students spread “Lasagna Love.” (Submitted photos)
Wilson CSD says its motto is “service above self,” and its club is consistently looking for ways to help others.
Wilson Interact adviser Corey McCarthy explained, “One of the ways that we found that we could help is by pairing up with the Pathways Program, headed by Rebecca Meyers, to join the ‘Lasagna Love’ program. Mrs. Meyers and her students shopped for the supplies while Karen Aloisio, one of the Interact advisers, made her authentic sauce from scratch.”
The Niagara Wheatfield’s Interact Club invited the district’s Youth Activation Committee (YAC) to assist with the cooking.
“Our students are great team members,” Pyskaty said. “They learn to work together and help one another. We had some kids who had never cooked before, and it was wonderful to see students teaching other students new skills. We had a club member that was from BOCES culinary and she was a wonderful teacher.
“This project builds community. Mr. Azarrella and Mrs. Dixon's life skills classes got to meet new friends and we are looking forward to working with them again at our Valentine's Day Bingo event. The goal of YAC is to build an inclusive community that benefits all students.”
Ljiljanich said, “It was awesome seeing students and staff with diverse backgrounds working together to prepare lasagnas for families who could benefit from a meal.”
Wilson students LeeAnn Gajewski, Abby Freatman, Emma Dirig, Emma Tower, Ozzy Brewer, Lillie Wilson, Emily Shackelford, Elizabeth Wasik and Sam Dack, under the leadership of Mrs. Aloisio, assembled the lasagnas and prepared them for cooking. The Wilson Food Pantry donated loaves of bread, salad and dessert, and volunteers from the district dropped off the meals to six families.
“This was a meaningful and gratifying experience for the students,” McCarthy said. “They all agreed that this was something they would like to do again in the future. The Interact Club and Pathways are currently looking into a future date to once again help others.”
Carter added, “The ‘Lasagna Love’ project was not only a special project for the students of Wilson because they truly care for their community, it was a fit for my personal values, doing whatever we can to help others. This project was a collaboration of a school youth group, life skills program, Rotary, and a community food bank in order to give back to six families in need. It does not get any better than that.”