Soup Ladies

Ginger “Mama” Passarelli (left), a graduate of the FBI National Citizens Academy, was among volunteers who prepared meals in the kitchen of First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee, for first responders after the Christmas Day bombing in the city’s downtown area. First Baptist Church’s facilities manager Israel Garcia (right) is pictured with to Passarelli.


NASHVILLE (BP) – Security cameras at Nashville’s First Baptist Church captured the moment a bomb exploded four blocks away on Christmas morning. The blast damaged 40 downtown buildings and injured at least three people. The church’s proximity presented a unique outreach opportunity.

The FBI National Citizens Academy Alumni Association used the church’s kitchen facilities. Volunteers with special security clearance prepared meals for first responders investigating the scene. Those served including Nashville police, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“This [group of volunteers] was a very elite group. They were trained by the FBI,” the church’s senior pastor, Frank Lewis, told the congregation during its Jan. 3 virtual worship service. “They needed a place. And, our church was ideally located,” he said. “They were able to feed approximately 1,000 people a day during this previous week as they responded to the need that was here in our city.”

The specially trained FBI volunteers provide food for first responders at active crime scenes that are often dangerous. Volunteers must pass background checks, be fingerprinted and be vetted for security concerns. “The security has to be tight because there are people who want to hurt police officers and hurt first responders,” Passarelli said. “It happens occasionally; we don’t want it to ever happen on our watch.”

Volunteer cook Ginger “Mama” Passarelli, president of The Soup Ladies in Buckley, Wash., was among nine volunteers the FBI alumni group deployed. “Having a kitchen like that was vital for us to be able to put out 3,000 meals in two and a half days,” she said. She graduated from the FBI Citizens Academy and is a retired restaurant owner. “If we didn’t have all that equipment and cooking capacity, it would have made it twice as hard,” she explained.

Gary Morgan, Nashville First’s urban missions pastor, lives less than a mile from the explosion. He said the crime makes clear the importance of developing relationships with neighbors and others in order to help in times of need. He heard the explosion at home with his wife and two daughters but was not required to evacuate. “I love how we had the opportunity to come alongside of the FBI and the team that was in there,” he said. “We had conversations with … all kinds of people, just trying to be helpful. … There is something to be said about coming alongside people from all points in their journey, that I thought was so, so helpful.”

Lewis said First Nashville is also helping displaced residents and business owners by participating in a recovery fund established for that purpose. “While we are thankful that our building was not damaged, we are broken-hearted for the property damage and losses felt by those who were affected by the blast,” Lewis said. “We care for people. When people are out of work due to a catastrophic and senseless act such as this, with no fault of their own, the least we can do is find tangible ways to be supportive of them.”


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