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On this Mother’s Day weekend — meet special soup lady first responders all call `Mama`

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BLACK DIAMOND — First responders risk their lives everyday to help people, but on this Mother’s Day weekend we want to introduce you to someone who helps them — a special soup lady who life savers all know as ‘Mama.’

“Who would have guessed a grey-haired grandma from Black Diamond is going to be going out into the woods and feeding people?” asks Ginger Passarelli, owner of Mama Passarelli’s Dinner House in Black Diamond.

She’s known as just “Mama” to thousands but most of her customers have never dined in her restaurant. Passarelli says, “When we were up in Oso, we put out over 6,600 meals and there is not one charge to any agency.” That’s because “Mama” and her volunteers known as ‘The Soup Ladies’ take the food to first responders in need.

It all started about ten years ago. “After Katrina hit I was in church one Sunday morning and there was a call. They needed volunteers and I just looked at my husband and he said, ‘Yes you can go,’” Passarelli recalls. But what she saw while she was in Mississippi disturbed her in a way she wasn’t prepared for. It wasn’t just the victims who tugged at her heart, it was also the first responders. “They had whatever was stuffed in their pockets for the day and 'Meals Ready to Eat' in their vehicles, that’s what they had to live on and I questioned them about that a little bit and said, 'Who takes care of you?' Because outside of this restricted area there was all kinds of organizations feeding everybody but the people who were doing really hard work were eating M.R.E's,” Passarelli explains.

And in the midst of chaos came clarity and 'Mama’s' mission was born. “I just decided that I’m going to take care of these people because they do an amazing job and there’s no one to take care of them.” And take care of them she does. Angie, Jessica, Roxanne and Bobbi help make up 'The Soup Ladies' and they explain, “When they see her truck pull up, they’re like ‘Mamas here, yay,’ they get so excited. “In that time that they have to have a bowl of soup she has time to talk to them for a minute, hug ‘em and get them back out there.”

Black Diamond police Sgt. Brian Lynch says, “What she brings behind the food. It’s a smile, it’s somebody who’s a friend to us and she actually is like a mom to the guys that are on scene.” And she thinks like a mom. Passarelli asks, “Would you rather have prime rib and horseradish soup or cold French Fries? Well, I’m thinking they would rather have the soup.”

She puts her heart in each dish prepared and hopes that others will reach out as well, not just because 'Mama' says so but because it’s the right thing to do. Passarelli adds, “I just feel like our first responders are on the front line all the time. They would run into a burning building and they don’t know my name. They would take a bullet for me and they don’t know my name. They deserve to be treated with honor and respect.”

'The Soup Ladies' are now a non-profit and accept donations. They’re also looking for volunteers. If you would like to get involved, you can get more information at SOUPLADIES.ORG