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MESA / IRVINE: COSTA MESA

Founder of Someone Cares Gets Points of Light Award

July 09, 1998|JOHN CANALIS

Someone Cares Soup Kitchen founder Merle Hatleberg is the winner of today's Daily Points of Light Award, a commendation created by former President George Bush that recognizes volunteerism across America.

The award applauds the 12 years of effort that Hatleberg, a retired dietitian, has poured into serving free lunches to the poor in Costa Mesa.

Someone Cares served free lunches in four locations over the years until buying the former Our House restaurant on West 19th Street and Pomona Avenue last year.

Hatleberg, who turned 75 earlier this week, downplayed the recognition.

"It's great. I have a wall full of them," she said of her awards. "I don't do it for that sort of thing. I do it for love."

Someone Cares serves about 200 meals daily. Numbers have dropped from about 250 meals a year ago. Hatleberg and her staff credit the change to an improving economy and Orange County's low unemployment rate.

A team of 60 volunteers and a few paid staff members help the kitchen churn out hot meals and desserts. Hatleberg commutes about 40 miles a day from San Clemente to handle administrative duties.

"She's great--big heart," said Mel Roberts, 46, a soup kitchen employee. "She tries to keep this place open. We've been in several different locations in the last 10 years, and it's a struggle to keep it open."

The Points of Light Award, which grew out of Bush's interest in recognizing volunteer work, is now awarded by President Clinton, the Points of Lights Foundation in Washington, the Knights of Columbus and the Corporation for National Service. Both Clinton and Bush are expected to sign letters to Hatleberg and other winners.

Candice Galante, 30, is one of the reasons Hatleberg won the award. Unemployed two years ago with a newborn, she relied on the soup kitchen for meals until she returned to work.

"At that point, I wasn't getting anything else," she said. "This was the only lunch I was getting."

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