Nonprofit honors family

Daily Pilot

A local family known for its popular, surf-themed taco restaurants will be honored Saturday for its history of community service to a Costa Mesa soup kitchen.

Someone Cares Soup Kitchen selected the Lee family, owner of Irvine-based Wahoo's Fish Tacos, as honorees at the soup kitchen's annual gala.

The Lees have contributed thousands of dollars in donations and countless hours of service to the soup kitchen over the past decade, even sponsoring the Someone Cares team at the Orange County Marathon.

"[The Lee family] has consistently helped us and deserves to be honored for their continued support," said Shannon Santos, executive director of Someone Cares.

The annual gala is the nonprofit organization's biggest fundraiser, said Santos, whose grandmother began the soup kitchen in 1986.

The organization aims to raise $86,000 —the record from past galas—or even more this year, Santos said.

"This is a beautiful event, which not only brings in the honorees and the people who support the honoree, but also new people from the community who want to find a way to help," Santos said.

A live and silent auction of various items, including trips to Jamaica and Hawaii, will be donated by various local sponsors.

In addition to honoring local contributors, the annual celebration is special for another reason: It coincides with late founder Merle Hatleberg's June birthday.

Although Santo's grandmother died three years ago, her actions in life remain a guiding force when times get tough.

"Whenever we don't know what the right decision is, we ask, 'What would Merle do?'" Santos said. "And it's always the right decision."

And times do get tough. The kitchen feeds 300 to 400 people in the Costa Mesa a day.

Santos sees all types of community members enter her doors, from veterans to down-on-their-luck families.

The one thing they all have is common, she said, is hunger.

"We are open to everyone in the community," Santos said, "Sometimes people just need a meal to help them stretch their dollar a little further, so that they can get gas to get to work or get through the weekend."

The gala takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at Someone Cares Soup Kitchen, 720 W. 19th St.

Tickets are $100 and can be bought at

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