August 19, 2013 12:00 PM

GINGER PASSARELLI, 58

Black Diamond, Wash.

LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT: Serving up soup and burgers to emergency crews during a church mission to Pass Christian, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina in ’05, the feisty owner of Mama Passarelli’s Dinner House felt it was just plain wrong that firefighters, medical personnel and other first responders to disaster scenes went long hours on empty stomachs or made do with freeze-dried fare. “They’re just stuck out there, and there’s nobody to take care of them,” she says. “I thought, ‘How can we change this?’ ”

SOUP’S ON: Starting with batches of soup for pick-up from her restaurant, Passarelli used a government grant to buy a mobile-kitchen trailer, recruited volunteers and took her show on the road, dishing out meals to hundreds of first responders during the October 2007 wildfires in Southern California. Working up to 70 mostly local disasters a year, she and her 40- strong volunteer Soup Ladies (soupladies.org) have fed more than 20,000 heroes at disaster scenes from tornado-torn Joplin, Mo., in 2011 to New York City’s Rockaways, ravaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

BOWLED OVER: “When we’re rushing out on a life or death thing, the last thing on our minds is food,” says Sgt. Cindi West, 50, a search-and-rescue worker for the King County, Wash., Sheriff. “We’ll call Ginger, and within a few hours, she’s there with hot food. She’s a lifesaver.”

KNOW A HERO? SEND SUGGESTIONS TO HEROESAMONGUS@PEOPLEMAG.COM

You May Like

EDIT POST