SEATTLE — Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York still doesn’t have power fully restored, three weeks after super storm Sandy.Some local volunteers are traveling there so they can deliver warm meals on Thanksgiving. For the next week, they’ll be in the middle of the devastation serving meals to people who’ve lost their homes and the first responders who are helping them.”Food is love,” says Soup Lady Ginger Passarelli. “I remember when we were in Mississippi after Katrina and I asked this lady, ‘would you like a caesar salad?’ She got tears in her eyes. Because she said, ‘I haven’t had anything with fresh produce.’ It means that much to people.”Passarelli is the first soup lady, the one who started making good food from scratch and delivering it to local firefighters stuck on a scene for hours. Now she takes her mission and a team of volunteers into disaster zones.
This will be Jannalle Noller’s first Soup Lady trip.
“My daughter, when I emailed her she said, ‘uh, mother, you don’t like to cook.’ I said ‘no, but I love to clean up and I’m really good at organizing.’ So I figure I can do dishes. And I can ladle soup, you know?”
The Soup Ladies will use whatever supplies they find and then hand deliver meals right into the heart of the mess.
One meal, in the middle of devastation, becomes more than food.
“It’s a touch of normalcy. It just means that in spite of everything else going on in their life, they can share a meal with somebody,” said Soup Lady Sheila Lein.
And to share that meal on Thanksgiving – with strangers in need? It’s a recipe that warms the heart and soul.
“I’m just looking forward to it and I know wherever we go, we’ll leave some happy people,” said Lein.
There are about 40 Soup Lady volunteers, and the group is always looking for more. They also need financial help. If you would like to donate, visit www.soupladies.org.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Ginger Passarelli (known by many as “Mama”) for a story I was writing for The Seattle Times. Since then, I’ve written several stories about Ginger, her restaurant and The Soup Ladies. She stands out as a true community hero, someone who gives selflessly of her time and talent when people need it the most. She’s passed her generous spirit on to other volunteers who are collectively known as The Soup Ladies. These women tirelessly cook and serve hot meals to emergency crews, search & rescue workers, law enforcement, fire fighters and others who help in emergency situations.
Yesterday The Soup Ladies received the donation of a retired 4×4 all-terrain vehicle to help The Soup Ladies get to rescue workers wherever they are. In a November 13 press release, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn said, “The Soup Ladies are an invaluable volunteer group here in the Pacific Northwest. I am ecstatic to play a part in securing this vehicle that will help them continue to serve our community. A big thank you goes to the Sheriff’s Office and the County Executives as well who also played a part in making this handover possible.”
Next up for The Soup Ladies: a trip to New York City to assist in the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
Thank you, Ginger and your selfless Soup Ladies, for all you do!
SEATTLE — Fires, crime scenes and natural disasters — whatever the tragedy, all can be made just a little more bearable with bowl of soup.
At least that’s the aim of a group of homegrown volunteers known affectionately as the Soup Ladies.
Soup lady Ginger “Mama” Passarelli might tell you the magic is in her red sauce, or a pot full of soon-to-be creamy mashed potatoes.But the truth is the magic is Mama herself.
“People ask me, ‘How do you know how to do all this?’ I don’t know!” she said, laughing.
Passarelli is the heart and soul of the Soup Ladies. Feeding others is her passion. So when a local fire department called, asking if she could bring some hot soup to firefighters who’d been on the job for hours, she never thought about saying no.
“Feeding all the first responders — it’s an honor and a privilege to get to do this. And their job is the worst,” she said.
Whether it’s investigators at the scene of Christmas-time murders, or investigating the shooting of four of their own, the Soup Ladies are there.
Some 30 volunteers strong, they can jump in their truck or load up their mobile kitchen and be on the road in an hour with hot food for 100.
“That’s the thanks — the smiles, the hugs. That’s all you need,” said Passarelli.
When Passarelli saw the devastation in Joplin, she knew the Soup Ladies had to go. The group’s motto: warming the world, one bowl at a time.
“There can be a little bit of beauty in chaos, just a little bit, a little bit of comfort,” Passarelli said.
Three Soup Ladies will leave for Joplin on Wednesday, and spend a week at the devastated region, cooking.
Sammamish resident Mary Jo Kahler has always valued community involvement. As an English teacher, she molded the minds of children for years. And since retiring, she has joined the ranks of a small but growing service group that helps the people who help people during emergencies, like the recent flooding.
For about a year, Kahler has been an active member of The Soup Ladies, a Maple Valley-based non-profit organization that feeds emergency workers throughout King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties.
“I like making a difference in my community and I like to cook,” Kahler said. “It seemed to be a good fit for me.”
She said she first read about the Soup Ladies in a brief article in the Costco Connection magazine last year. “I thought, ‘this really makes sense,’ to take care of people who take care of the community,” Kahler said. “The silent heroes, to me, are the men and women who go through intense training to be on call 24/7 to protect my family … my grandkids.”
The Soup Ladies consists of about 20 women from around the region. They provide fresh, hot, high-calorie meals during events such as house fires, search-and-rescue operations, flood relief and even hurricane cleanup. Like many of the trained responders, they, too, are on call, Kahler said.
Being on the team keeps Kahler, who has quite a flexible schedule these days, up to date with her e-mail and correspondence, she said. She checks her e-mail regularly throughout the day, in case the Soup Ladies get a call.
“For me responding is a priority,” she said.
The Soup Ladies began in a more modest form about 10 years ago, when Maple Valley resident Ginger “Mamma” Passarelli began taking soup to her church. People eventually called her the Soup Lady and over time, her community service grew into a full-fledged operation, serving small groups of firefighters and aid workers who cleaned up after fires and storms in the Maple Valley area. And when Hurricane Katrina hit in September 2005, Passarelli and a small crew of volunteers from her church went to Louisiana to help with clean up.
“I really wanted to cook, because I can cook a lot of food really fast,” said Passarelli, who owns an Italian restaurant.
She went back five times after that, serving up to 3,500 meals a day on the beach in Louisiana. Soon after, she started Mamma Passarelli’s restaurant in Maple Valley.
“If you had told me that I was going to buy a restaurant and drag middle-aged women I don’t know to the beach, I would have said ‘your nuts,’ but that’s what we were doing,” Passarelli said.
In 2008, the Soup Ladies fed emergency workers at the Snoqualmie Pass ice cave collapse and the Green River car rescue operation, among others. While working outside and in unstable conditions, warm, homemade food gives workers an extra boost, Passarelli said. Often, crews stuck out in hard-to-reach places sustain themselves on Meals Ready to Eat – military-style food rations.
“We feed them hot food,” Passarelli said. “That does something to the heart.”
In the fall, Passarelli said they were called to Galveston, Texas and Baton Rouge, La. to help set up a kitchen after hurricane Gustav hit. The group also traveled to Southern California to help with the wildfire efforts.
“We’re getting really good at doing deliveries for small operations,” Passarelli said. “But I’m also able to get into a kitchen for a longer response.”
Up until recently, Passarelli and her husband supported the group’s operations, with the help of a few donations here and there.
“We don’t charge for our meals, we just go out and feed people,” Passarelli said.
But when King County Councilman Reagan Dunn noticed the group’s good deeds, he helped award a $41,000 grant to fund their efforts. The Maple Valley Rotary followed suit and raised $27,000 for the Soup Ladies.
In the end, Passarelli was able to purchase a $60,000 mobile kitchen and received a pick-up truck to tow it.
“Our mobile kitchen is going to give us one more mode of service,” Kahler said.
The Sammamish Rotary recently donated $1,200 to the Soup Ladies to buy 20 large soup pots. Rotary president Lisa Kennedy said giving to groups like the Soup Ladies is why the Rotary does its big fundraisers, like Nightmare at Beaver Lake.
“It’s really fun to help organizations get a start,” Kennedy said. “This is what we do it for. This is a good example of how that works, to be able to give back to the community in this way.”
Passarelli said the Soup Ladies’ mission is simply to feed people who help others in need. And sometimes it’s not just with food. She recalled a humbling moment during the Katrina disaster relief.
“I just remember one fellow – a truck driver – he had come in to the tent, and was sitting with his hands over his eyes. (He had) lost his sunglasses. I said ‘if you come back tomorrow, I’ll have some for you.’ He came back and I handed him some Ray Bans. He started to cry and thanked me,” Passarelli said. “This isn’t from me, it’s from my community. I’m just one little fish in a big pond.”