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Soup Ladies just looking to help
Local restaurant owner inspired to help following Gulf Coast visit
By Shawn Skager
Ginger Passarelli is out to help the world, one ladle of soup at a time.
Passarelli knows the healing power of food. It comes from her Italian heritage, she said.
“When people eat together it's more than just eating. They communicate, they get to know each other, they talk. It creates community.”
Not content with merely providing food and ambiance for diners at her homey restaurant, Mama Passarelli's Dinner House in Black Diamond, Passarelli started the Soup Ladies of Maple Valley.
The group is dedicated to helping people - whether it's providing a meal for the hungry, giving a volunteer a chance to know they are appreciated or a displaced hurricane survivor a chance to sit down, eat and talk.
She said she came up with the idea more than seven years ago, while making soup for churchgoers after services at the Real Life Church in Maple Valley.
“We would serve more than 400 lunches after services every Sunday,” Passarelli said. “It was just for anybody who showed up.”
Soon the Soup Ladies branched out, with Passarelli joining forces with Diane Tate and serving soup to volunteers cleaning up in Maple Valley after the wind storm of 2004.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005, the Soup Ladies, including Passarelli and Tate, packed up their ladles and soup pots and swung into action, heading to Pass Christian, Miss., to cook for the thousands of people displaced by the storm, as well as the volunteers that flocked to the area to help.
Arriving in Mississippi a scant four weeks after Katrina did her damage, Passarelli said she was shocked by the extent of the devastation.
“People said the storm surge was 28 or 36 or 42 feet high, depending on who you asked,” she said. “And it went miles inland, so everything, the houses, anything in the houses, was swept away.”
Looking at pictures she took while in Mississippi she can't help but get emotional.
One snapshot shows a tree, festooned with various articles of clothing and personal items.
“This was somebody's purse,” she said. “I don't even know what the other stuff was, but this went on for miles. Everything cloth got into the trees.”
Another snapshot shows a little boy, clutching a stuffed animal that the Soup Ladies had given him.
“I cry every time I see this one,” she said holding the photo. “He's holding this toy so tight because he didn't have any toys. He's a kid and he didn't have any toys.”
The trip in September was just one of four Passarelli took to Mississippi. With the other Soup Ladies she also provided Thanksgiving and Easter meals.
The group operated out of a tent that could house 300 to 400 people and prepared upward of 2,500 meals a day.
Passarelli said even the customers at her restaurant in Black Diamond pitched in.
“Customers would say, it's so nice what you're doing, I wish I could help you,” she said. “And I told them you can.”
During the holidays she solicited her customers for donations of Christmas lights, clothing and stuffed animals and toys.
In another of her snapshots, a group of college students are seen hanging up the lights and decorating a tree.
Despite the depressing scenes around them, the atmosphere in the tent was cheery and festive, she said.
Now, Passarelli said she wants to bring the charity home to Black Diamond.
Along with her fellow Soup Ladies, she is raising money to buy a mobile kitchen for the city of Black Diamond.
According to Passarelli, the kitchen will serve the community at events as well as being available in case of emergency.
“With the mobile kitchen any Soup Lady and a few volunteers can feed 1,000 meals a day,” she said.
Passarelli said that she expects the mobile kitchen - a trailer and truck combination - will cost around $50,000.
To aid in their efforts to raise money for the community mobile kitchen, Passarelli, Tate and the other Soup Ladies were recently sworn in as official Black Diamond volunteer firefighters.
That move brought non-profit status to the raising of money for the mobile kitchen, and allows all contributors a tax deduction.
“I hadn't really though about it (why I want to help),” Passarelli said. “It just needs to be done and I jumped in. A lot of people want to help.
“I want my community to be better,” she continued. “And by community I mean my city, my county, my state and my country.”
Contributions can be mailed to Mama Passarelli's Dinner House, attn.: Soup Ladies, 24306 Roberts Dr., Black Diamond, 98010.
More information about the Soup Ladies can be found at their Web site, www.thesoupladiesofmaplevalley.com or at the Mama Passarelli's Web site at www.mamapassarelli.com.
Shawn Skager can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.