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A tradition of giving

November 25, 2005|By By Lindsay Sandham

Each year for nearly two decades, the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen has served Thanksgiving dinner to hundreds.The holidays are a time for family, and Merle Hatleberg has a big one.

The founder of Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa has dedicated her life to making everyone in the community a part of her family. Hatleberg's impact on the community is even more evident around the holidays, when volunteers come out in droves and hundreds of homeless people and less fortunate families spend their afternoon feasting on gourmet food.

"It takes a team," said soup kitchen manager Shannon Santos, Hatleberg's granddaughter.

The soup kitchen, which opened its doors for Thanksgiving lunch at noon on Thursday, had enough turkey, stuffing, cranberries, green beans, bread and pumpkin pie to feed 800. About 130 volunteers, including 40 employees from PacifiCare, worked four shifts throughout the day, setting up the tables, helping prepare and serve the food, and cleaning up afterward.

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Hatleberg said it's what she loves seeing day in and day out -- "people helping people."

"It's run very smooth," she said. "After 19 years, it should."

Merle Hatleberg's daughter, Teri Hatleberg, remembers the first Thanksgiving the soup kitchen was open -- they served about 30 people.

"It just kept growing and growing because the need kept growing," she said.

As the first shift of volunteers finished up their work, the soup kitchen's weekend supervisor, Kim Haina, thanked them all for their time and explained how important it is that every person who walks through the door feels as if they're in a five-star restaurant.

"They are our guests, they are family members," Haina said, her eyes moistening and voice cracking as she encouraged the volunteers to pass the charitable spirit along to friends and family. "We do this because we want it to be really special for our guests.... On the holidays, we love to put on our best."

Michael Kang, owner of Five Feet restaurant in Laguna Beach, has been supplying the majority of the food for the Thanksgiving spread for the past 14 years. He said a large group of his friends stayed up all night Tuesday prepping the side dishes and cooking close to 100 turkeys.

"Merle's wonderful," Kang said. "I just try to do every bit I can to help her out."

Kang also brought his two children, Tylan, 12, and Devon, 4, to help out in the kitchen and with serving.

Crystal Holtzendorff, a PacifiCare employee, helped Devon make the buns.

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