We mourn the loss of one who cared

June 03, 2007

Twenty one years ago, Merle Hatleberg felt a calling to feed the hungry. The woman with a heart of gold harkened back to her West Virginia coal-miner roots and couldn't fathom letting the poor go without a good meal.

What transpired was a long-lasting mission and the creation of the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen.

The name says it all. That someone who cared was Hatleberg.

But she wasn't the only one. Hatleberg's kindness and compassion touched many, rich or poor. She commanded a legion of volunteers who came from far and wide to assist in helping the poor of Costa Mesa.

Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were always a busy and special time at the soup kitchen. Hatleberg, a mother of eight, and her volunteer army always made sure that those less fortunate still had all the trimmings and gifts.


Of course, Hatleberg also faced her share of adversity. The Someone Cares Soup Kitchen became a target. Critics called it a magnet for illegal immigrants and homeless.

But Hatleberg knew better. She was serving a need, not creating a nuisance, and she never strayed from her cause.

Even still, she worked toward finding solutions and being a good neighbor. She hired a security guard to keep watch over the soup kitchen patrons and landscaped and painted the 19th Street building where the soup kitchen was housed.

And about that 19th Street building. It was a joyous day for Hatleberg, who through the help of private donors was able to purchase the property in full and end any speculation that the soup kitchen would be forced to move or shut down as has been the fate of other charities.

"You have to serve as many as you can," Hatleberg told us in an interview once.

There is no doubt, she did just that. Whatever anyone thought of Hatleberg's mission to feed the working poor, as she called them, it would be hard to see her in any other light than a hero — a champion of the poor and the hungry.

Costa Mesa, which has seen itself rattled recently by petty politics and polarization, can take a lesson from Hatleberg in kindness and compassion.

The city is much better because of her, and we join those who now mourn and miss this remarkable woman.

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