Styled for school success

Many thanks to the Petaluma Valley Rotary and the Active 20-30 Club of Petaluma for getting our kids excited about going back to school. New backpacks, school supplies, shoes and clothes help kids feel like they fit in. That’s especially important for the kids in our programs who have often experienced a lot of upheaval and are starting out as “new kids.”

Petaluma Valley Rotary is supplying brand new backpacks stuffed full of supplies and the Active 20-30 Club is taking kids shopping for school clothes. Together, their efforts will mean a better start to the school year for all COTS’ kids and families!

Investing in our children

Sonoma County has invested heavily in Rapid Re-Housing—a program where short-term rental assistance is paired with services to help homeless families stabilize quickly, and soon, shoulder their household expenses independently.

There are good reasons for that investment. According to a 2015 study, five families can be stabilized through rapid re-housing for the same price it takes to house one family in a transitional housing program. We’re finding that study to ring true here in Sonoma County. On average, COTS will pay about $6,000 in rental support to our Rapid Re-Housing landlords as our clients get back on their feet. And over 90 percent of our clients remain housed once our assistance ends.

In our last fiscal year, which ended June 30, we housed more than 200 people through Rapid Re-Housing.In  the month of July, 2019, we housed 45 additional people through Rapid Re-Housing.

Wise and efficient use of our limited resources is good for the entire community. And the beautiful thing is that it’s best for our families, too. Nothing is more disruptive for a child than a period of prolonged homelessness.Permanent housing correlates to better health, better academics and a more successful adulthood.

Thanks to all our supporters for investing in COTS’ life-changing programs and services.


Feeding a crowd and caring for the planet

Over half of the produce grown in the United States goes to waste, according to the Journal of Consumer Affairs of the National Resource Defense Council. Part of the waste comes down to aesthetics: we just won’t buy it if it’s not sleek and pretty.

But anyone who gardens knows that wonky fruits and vegetables taste just as good as their more elegant counterparts.  And anyone who’s been to Mary’s Table knows that we are always on the look-out for fresh produce. We serve over 7000 meals a month, and we’ve pledged to fill each one of them with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Preserve Sonoma Farm Kitchens,  The Center for Spiritual Living and Jacobs Farm Del Cabo  just helped us with that pledge.

Merrilee Olson owns and operates Petaluma’s Preserve Sonoma Farm Kitchens and she’s dedicated her life to using the whole harvest. Merrilee secured a donation of 780 pounds of organic tomatoes from Jacob’s Farm Del Cabo in the Santa Cruz area. Then she enlisted the help of her fellow congregants at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa to turn those tomatoes into 600 jars of marinara sauce for Mary’s Table.

Last Saturday, the volunteers donned hair nets and close-toed shoes and persevered through heat, noise and technical difficulties to create beautiful jars of sauce that we’ll serve at Mary’s Table and give away to residents in our housing programs.

The Center for Spiritual Living chose COTS as a beneficiary of its 2019 charitable giving. Congregants were eager to do even more, Merrilee says. “I put out the word that I needed volunteers and people came.” Merrilee had eight volunteers from the Center helping her and one paid staff member.

Jacobs Farm del Cabo was one of California’s first certified-organic farms. “At Jacobs Farm del Cabo we recognize the unsustainability of food waste and are proud to donate fresh organic produce to community organizations like Mary’s Table,” says Marketing Coordinator Wylie Bird.

According to, it takes 26 gallons of water to produce a pound of tomatoes, so using these 700 pounds of tomatoes that would have gone to waste is ensuring thatover 18,000 gallons of water were used well.

Thank you to everyone involved in this heroic effort! When we take care of each other, we can also take care of the planet.

Reminder to all our supporters: Mary’s Table, 900 Hopper Street, is open to the public free of charge for lunch and dinner. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. every day. Please help us get the word out to anyone who is struggling to make ends meet.

Business in the Ballroom and Picnic in the Parking Lot

Thank you to everyone who came to Business in the Ballroom on July 25 at the Hotel Petaluma. We were thrilled that so many people came out to recognize and commend our incredible business supporters!

Many thanks to the people and organizations who made the event possible: the Hotel Petaluma; the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce; Side Dish; Jackson Family Wines; Lagunitas Brewing Company; and Century 21 Bundesen. Thanks to Joy Regan for her lovely photos.

COTS co-founder Laure Reichek celebrating at the COTS Community Picnic

Thanks also to everyone who came to our COTS Community Picnic on July 11 to celebrate the expansion of our free meal program. Now, in addition to our regular lunch offering, our dinners are open to anyone in the community who is having trouble making ends meet. There’s no paperwork involved. Our stalwart volunteers serve lunch between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and dinner between 5 and 6 p.m.

Restaurants to the rescue!

Two of Petaluma’s finest restaurants have each taken over a meal slot at Mary’s Table. McNear’s restaurant is preparing and delivering Thursday evening dinners and Seared is delivering Monday lunches. These generous deliveries will supplement the meals prepared by our volunteers and staff on other days of the week and give our clients a taste of Petaluma’s best.

Together with his wife Carrie, owner Ken O’Donnell delivered and served the first meal on Thursday: baked chicken with a garlic glaze, pesto pasta and vegetables. What a treat! Thank you!

Client profile: Don

The urge to beautify our surroundings is universal. For Don, for many years, his design space was limited to his walking stick, a craggy piece of 100-year-old Eucalyptus. He pressed into the wood his mother’s birthstone, a ring from a happy period of his life, stones and talismans, each representing births and deaths and friendships.

Don’s childhood in Sonoma County was rough, he says. He joined the military and discovered a mechanical aptitude. He worked a variety of jobs but fell into homelessness when one personal tragedy followed another and another. He camped and couch-surfed and occasionally stayed in shelters.  He prided himself on keeping a clean and tidy campground. That all changed when a driver making an illegal turn sent Don flying off his bike. He landed yards away with bruises, a concussion, and multiple broken ribs and limbs. The driver fled, never to be seen again.

Still convalescing, he entered our Permanent Supportive Housing program ten months ago. He shares a mobile home with another gentleman and works with case manager Kathleen Sinnott. She helps him get to his medical appointments and wade through the paperwork from his accident.

Don still has the walking stick, but, now, his mobile home is his canvas. Boxes and cans line the kitchen shelves in artistic displays; just-plumped pillows perch on the couch; animal figurines pose together on the television; in the garden, sun catchers surround his thriving tomato plants.

“I just like things nice,” he says.