When Ginger Passarelli gets a call in the middle of the night to rush out to Mount Rainier, or North Bend, or Bellevue, she never knows what awaits her or how long she’ll be. But she does know that it’s usually not good news.
She also knows that she will find exhausted and hungry first responders and, on the periphery, ordinary citizens who may be having the worst day of their lives.
Wherever she ends up, Passarelli knows bellies – and hopefully hearts – will be filled.
For more than seven years, the 57-year-old Black Diamond grandmother has been feeding police officers, firefighters, medics and search-and-rescue workers who are called out to crime scenes, natural disasters and other emergencies. Whenever there’s a search or siege, Passarelli and her fellow volunteers head out, often with their mobile kitchen, to pass out steaming bowls of soup, hot coffee, cocoa or sandwiches, along with a side order of understanding.
Passarelli’s volunteers are known as the Soup Ladies. Their motto: “Warming the world one bowl at a time.”
She was in Parkland after four Lakewood police officers were fatally shot in a coffee shop in November 2009.
She was in Bellevue a year ago during the first week of the intensive search for missing toddler Sky Metalwala. She was in Graham in February after Josh Powell killed his two sons and himself in a fiery inferno.
She was in North Bend in April when self-styled survivalist Peter Keller holed up for two days in a hand-built, fortified bunker after killing his wife and daughter.
“Mama” Passarelli, as she is known, has seen the faces of the officers and rescue workers who come in tired, worried, or heartbroken after hours in the field. Her mission is to keep them fueled with food.
“They literally cry, they’re so thankful for a hot meal. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world,” she said.
King County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Barton, who works in search and rescue, says the value of what Passarelli and her fellow volunteers contribute cannot be overestimated.
“When you’ve been out for hours, sometimes overnight, and you come in to a hot, comforting, home-cooked meal, it’s such a morale booster,” Barton said. “She’s awesome.”
This week, Passarelli and three of the growing ranks of Soup Ladies – Sheila Lein, Jannelle Noller and Diana Holt – have taken their show on the road. They’ll be serving Thanksgiving dinner and other meals to those in some areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Passarelli has always loved to cook, even before she opened Mama Passarelli’s Dinner House in Black Diamond. She also ran the soup kitchen at her church and habitually made Sunday dinners large enough to feed unexpected guests.