Soup kitchen is bustling

In the back of Someone Cares Soup Kitchen on the day before Thanksgiving, Lorrie Sanchez rasped out instructions to two volunteers straining out turkey stock for the stuffing.

For more than a dozen years, Sanchez has run a kitchen without a regular staff, without recipes and without knowing what ingredients she'll have the next day.

But she does know that hundreds of people will be waiting outside on 19th Street, expecting something to eat.

On Wednesday, she geared up for Thanksgiving dinner by overseeing the preparation of tubs of homemade stuffing, vats of sweet potatoes and more than 40 turkeys.

"We use all fresh ingredients, no canned ingredients at all," said Sanchez, who has been the chef at the Costa Mesa nonprofit for almost 14 years.

As Shannon Santos, executive director at Someone Cares, puts it: Sanchez is the kitchen's MacGyver, a reference to the long-canceled television show about a resourceful secret agent.

"She's really magical," Santos said.

The two have been best friends since they were in fifth grade in Huntington Beach.

On Tuesday, the two women weren't sure how Thanksgiving dinner would come together.

For some reason, only five or six families had donated turkeys when usually the fridge is bursting before the holiday.

Santos and Sanchez turned to television, asking a CBS News reporter to let people know the kitchen needed donations. A segment Tuesday night told Orange and Los Angeles counties that Someone Cares was short some Thanksgiving essentials and that Sanchez wouldn't mind having a few more hams to serve.

"Next thing you know, 100 hams came in," Sanchez said. "I'm not even exaggerating."

The soup kitchen could have used a valet parking service Wednesday morning for the Land Rovers and BMWs lined up to drop off food, Sanchez said, before she tied back her wild red and black hair and dove back into prep work with potatoes stacked around her.

Someone Cares expects 500 to 600 people to show up for the turkey dinner and relies on 140 to 150 volunteers about every year.

By early November, it almost always has its volunteer positions filled, and more apply every day.

It's the rest of the days — the nonprofit serves one meal a day — when the chef is constantly reinventing dishes or remixing ingredients.

"I so pulled off a miracle today, I've got to say," Sanchez said Wednesday.

Not long before the soup kitchen's doors opened, she was in a panic. Someone had poured chicken and rice meant for a soup into Sanchez's spaghetti sauce.

"So what, am I going to serve spaghetti sauce with rice? I have no choice," she said, "But then I went out there and everyone said, 'Oh my God, the spaghetti is so good today, and the soup is marvelous.'"

Other days aren't as much of a whirlwind. Then she can settle in and cook the chili Colorado or chili verde she learned from her grandmother — a nod to her roots in New Mexico.

Sanchez, 49, discovered her love of cooking when she was about 25 and went on to win a number of chili cook-offs. But it never became a calling until she discovered Someone Cares.

Santos' grandmother founded the soup kitchen in 1986, so Sanchez was aware of it, but it wasn't until 13 years ago that she walked through the doors and became hooked on helping.

"To actually walk in here, that just inspired me, and for a week straight I kept coming in here," she said.

She applied for a chef's job at the kitchen, but Someone Cares hired someone else, so Sanchez worked in the dining room.

"I just wanted to be a part of it," she said.

Four months later, the chef quit. Since then, Sanchez has been cooking almost constantly for anyone in need — in love with a job she hadn't known existed until earlier that year.

"I never knew that God had this job in mind for me," she said.

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