I would like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you to share our progress in serving the homeless, and hear from you about what we could be doing differently or better. Until then, I’d like to share this Virtual Cup of Coffee: my new monthly communique about the business and mission moments of COTS – Committee On The Shelterless. In the Business portion, I will share the nuts and bolts of what we do to serve the homeless – our successes and our challenges. In the Mission Moment, I will share stories about our clients and our wonderful staff who make it all happen. I hope you enjoy learning more about our work – and our vision to end homelessness in Sonoma County – here at COTS.

All my best,


As I’m out in the community building relationships, I am often asked “who is COTS collaborating with?” Our business of helping people who experience homelessness is complicated – by regulatory compliance and reporting, competition for funding, and increased community concern. To make a real impact on today’s homelessness crisis, we must collaborate with other homeless providers, government agencies, and community businesses. Why? There are many reasons, but let me share just two.

Self-awareness and expertise– COTS has been serving the homeless in Sonoma County for over thirty years, but new situations and a changing clientele require us to stay nimble and self-aware. A recent emergency situation in our shelter brought to light gaps in our processes. To help us navigate the situation, our experienced staff reached out to another homeless provider who shared their own shelter policies. We were able to use these ideas to review and grow COTS’ programs to better serve our staff and clients. We then created a new position on our staff team to ensure that we have best practice policies and procedures in place across our organization.

Collaborating allows us to learn and grow. Seeing how others do things, especially if it’s in a non-related field or for-profit business, challenges us to emulate or aspire to their best practices, expertise, and capabilities. It can be easy to get trapped in our comfort zone – but looking beyond COTS’ walls forces us to reconsider how we do things and strive to always do better. Collaboration is just good business.

Healthy Meals, Healthy Community

People experiencing homelessness get most of their meals in shelters and soup kitchens. Because of limited financial resources and the availability of fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, much of what is served in shelters is low nutrient high calorie, starch, or fatty. Yet good nutrition is critical for the prevention of chronic diseases that many low-income people suffer from – heart disease, hypertension, cancer, diabetes. Undernutrition can also lead to decreased bone mass, impaired wound healing, and reduced cognitive functioning. For many, staying healthy or treating an illness takes a lower priority than staying safe and surviving on the streets.

In Sonoma County, especially, people should never go hungry. At COTS, both our clients and any of our neighbors experiencing hunger are welcome for lunch. We are fortunate to have Chef Derrick Ng on staff, who takes his job of feeding those experiencing homelessness very seriously. Coupled with a community that generously donates fresh produce (and just about everything else) and a corps of dedicated volunteers who chop, sort, julienne and more, COTS is making a difference in the kitchen.

Derrick grew up in Indonesia. He learned to cook watching his mom and others make traditional local cuisines. He moved to the U.S. in 2003 and worked a variety of jobs in the kitchen, finally owning his own restaurant. Derrick says that people eat first with their eyes and that good food makes people happy.

Derrick and his team always have fresh green and fruit salads, a healthy protein entrée, vegetarian side dishes, a hot vegetable soup, and fresh dessert – all made from scratch. His food brings people together, whether homeless or not – and you see and feel it in the dining room. Derrick and his team welcome all donations especially those from your garden.

Thank you Derrick, your wonderful staff, and our amazing team of COTS Kitchen Volunteers for making this all happen.

Don’t forget to follow COTS on Facebook to see our daily menu and updates about our programs, services and success stories!

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez