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upworthy
Heroes

Who do firefighters call when they need help? A group of amazing moms.

The massive fire in north-central Washington just became the largest wildfire in the state's history.

This scorcher, known as the Okanogan Complex, was measured at 400 square miles, which is about two and a half times the size of Seattle.



Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images.

And since it's only August and dry conditions are likely to continue, the fire is showing no signs of slowing.

Firefighters and first responders working to slow the blaze are getting a boost from a few brave volunteers known as "The Soup Ladies."

There are over 1,200 firefighters and first responders on the front lines of the Okanogan Complex. Now, they're joined by The Soup Ladies, a group of Washington-based volunteers, many of them moms and grandmothers, who prepare home-cooked meals for first responders during emergencies and natural disasters at no cost.

The Soup Ladies support first responders at the Okanogan Complex. Photo by The Soup Ladies.

"The Soup Ladies are working out of a commercial kitchen in the general area and disbursing food to crews," volunteer Sheila Lein told Upworthy. "Yesterday, the First Responders enjoyed Italian Chicken Cacciatore, slow-simmered beef stroganoff and fresh peach crisp." YUM.

The Soup Ladies started in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, when volunteer Ginger "Mama" Passarelli noticed there weren't any organizations helping the helpers.

So Passarelli traveled to the Gulf Coast to volunteer with her church group to help look after the emergency personnel.

Photo by The Soup Ladies.

According to Lein, who relayed to Upworthy what Passarelli saw in Katrina's aftermath, the emergency personnel were working long hours in extreme heat and "only munching on granola bars from their pockets, if they were lucky enough to have them."

"Right then and there," Lein says, "The Soup Ladies organization was born and we have been dedicated to the well-being of our First Responders ever since."

The Soup Ladies travel across the country, delivering comfort foods to men and women on the front lines.

They have supported first responders in their home state for nearly 10 years, during search-and-rescue missions, standoffs, and natural disasters. But their goodwill doesn't end there.


Funded solely by personal donations and the volunteers themselves, teams of Soup Ladies traveled to New York after Hurricane Sandy and to Oklahoma in the wake of devastating tornados. During the five-day trip to Oklahoma, a crew of four Soup Ladies churned out 13,000 meals!

Ginger Passarelli and an NYPD officer after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photo by The Soup Ladies.

Thanks to their hard work, they're well-known to police and fire agencies across the country. As Lein told Upworthy, "When disasters and critical incidents arise, the agency leads know that one phone call will bring the Soup Ladies as quickly as possible."

For the volunteers, it's all about showing gratitude and keeping the first responders safe.

According to Lein, many of the volunteers have personal ties to fire personnel or law enforcement, so they consider each first responder a member of their great big extended family. For them, making and serving comfort food is the best way to say thanks.

Photo by The Soup Ladies.

"We truly believe that bringing home-style meals to the first responders will keep them safer," Lein told Upworthy. "The meals are generally served with a good grandma-style hug and the workers go back into the field knowing we care."

It's a nice reminder that everyone can be a hero to someone else.

As the Okanogan Complex rages on, I'm grateful for the brave crews that face danger head-on and the hardworking volunteers who support them, whenever and wherever.

Photo by The Soup Ladies.

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