‘Mama’ keeps volunteers happy | Wally’s World

Ginger “Mama” Passarelli is a warm, effervescent and happy, middle-aged ex-hippie who decided, if she was ever going to have children and a home, she’d have to forsake her life in a teepee on a communal, organic farm and get a job or start a business. So, 10 years ago she opened Mama Passarelli’s Italian restaurant in Black Diamond.

The rest, as they say, is history. From the start, it’s been one of the finest dinner houses in our region. In fact, readers of the Covington/Maple Valley Reporter voted it the finest Italian restaurant on the Plateau.

If you haven’t yet eaten there, by all means do so.

However, her splendid dining room isn’t the main reason for this feeble column. Instead, I want to alert you to the incredibly unselfish and heroic service Ginger has offered at natural disaster sites all over America – from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi to the tornadoes in Shawnee, Okla., and the landslide in Oso. Ginger and a team of FEMA-trained volunteers have worked so many natural disasters in our country, emergency personnel know them on a first-name basis. Frequently operating from the back of trucks and under a canopy or two, her team mainly serves hot, home-made meals to first responders through, on occasion, they’ve been known to feed victims as well. In one tornado-stricken region, they served 13,000 meals in five days.

Surprisingly, Ginger receives no funding from any government agency. Her team members even buy their own airplane tickets to the disaster areas. Though she applauds the help she receives from Real Life Church in Covington (nondenominational), Ginger remains the inspiration and driving force behind the operation.

Working closely with country and town officials and the state patrol, in 16 days Ginger and her volunteers recently served more than 6,600 hot meals to the rescue crews in Oso. (Ginger, by the way, is a chaplin with the State Patrol.) More than any other disaster site they’ve dealt with, contamination was a major problem in Oso and keeping the raw food and cooking utensils clean was absolutely critical.

Many of you may have seen her being interviewed at the landslide site by a reporter from NBC Nightly News. This was no superficial query. It was an in-depth four or five minute report, fed directly across the desk to Brian Williams. I am quite certain no other local person in the history Enumclaw, Black Diamond or for that matter the entire Plateau, has ever held the spotlight for that length of time on any national news program.

Anyway, the next time you’re in the restaurant you might shake her hand. Better yet, give her a hug. No one deserves it more.