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Petaluma facility houses and supports vulnerable children and adults

Hops for Homes benefit party and concert What? A benefit for COTS (Committee on the Shelterless), featuring Lagunitas brews, delicious food, and music by local multi-instrumental band The Rivertown Skifflers. There will be an arts-and-crafts corner for kids, and various raffles and silent auctions. Prizes include a weekend at Disneyland and a stay at a Mendocino bed-and-breakfast. Food will be provided by Sauced, with dessert by Three Twins ice cream.

When? Tuesday, April 18, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Where? Lagunitas Brewing Company, 1280 N. McDowell Blvd.

How Much? $25 for adults, $30 at the door, kids under 12 are free. Information and tickets? www.cots-homeless.org

It’s hard not to notice all the plastic tubs.

As Eileen Morris walks quietly through the dormitory at Petaluma’s Mary Isaak Center, the majority of the bunkbeds she passes appear to be occupied by plastic tubs with snap-tight covers - the kind people use to store old clothes or Christmas decorations.

“Guests are allowed to keep two tubs of belongings here, on or near their assigned bed, during the day when they’re not in the dormitory,” explains Morris, Manager of Community Engagement for the Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), the Sonoma County nonprofit that operates the Petaluma facility, located on Hopper St. One of the county’s largest homeless shelters, the Mary Isaak Center is one of many such facilities, and similar housing programs, currently operated by COTS throughout the county.

On this cloudy afternoon, Morris is keeping her voice down out of courtesy to the handful of actual human beings currently sleeping in some of the bunks not covered in tubs. In those cases, their containers are tucked close to the side of their bed as they sleep.

“Some of them are night workers, so they sleep during the day,” whispers Morris, leading the way out of the dorms, toward the dining room and kitchen. Residents at Mary Isaak Center are given three meals a day, though the kitchen provides lunches daily to anyone who needs a hot meal.

Karen Evans is in charge of the center’s food programs, which include food delivery to hungry folks unable to leave their homes. According to Evans, recipients generally will get a week’s worth of groceries.

“In February we did 1,242 food boxes,” she says, consulting a clipboard, “which equaled out to 56,089 pounds of food. Our boxes weigh between 41 and 43 pounds apiece. In that same month we served 9,552 hot meals right here in the dining room. That’s all done with two full-time kitchen employees, and a whole lot of volunteers.”

“We really depend on our volunteers,” notes Morris, leading the way back through the lobby and up to the second floor. “We depend on them every bit as much as we depend on grants and donations — and fundraisers like the Hops for Homes benefit.”

The Hops for Homes event has been envisioned by Morris as a community party with music and food, to be held Tuesday, April 18, at Lagunitas Brewing Company. The main attraction is an appearance by The Rivertown Skifflers, a popular local old-time music ensemble.

“The Skiffllers do very happy music, and their onstage rapport is infectious,” says Morris. “All the money we raise goes toward the services we provide here at the Mary Isaak Center. As you can see, we do a lot here, and we help an amazing number of people – homeless people, hungry people, people who are working two or three jobs but still not able to pay the rent.”

The Mary Isaak Center, opened in 2006, has certainly seen its share of challenges, and a number of changes, over the past eleven years.

“Here’s one of the changes,” says Morris, indicating the medium-high wall running along what had once been a second-floor railing with a view down onto the first floor lobby area. That view is now blocked, but for good reason. “When we first opened, we didn’t have any kids staying here,” she explains. “So there was just a railing. From the lobby, you can still it. The building wasn’t really designed with kids in mind, but when we decided to open the shelter to families with children, we needed to do something to prevent a child from possibly climbing over it, or maybe falling through.”

Hops for Homes benefit party and concert What? A benefit for COTS (Committee on the Shelterless), featuring Lagunitas brews, delicious food, and music by local multi-instrumental band The Rivertown Skifflers. There will be an arts-and-crafts corner for kids, and various raffles and silent auctions. Prizes include a weekend at Disneyland and a stay at a Mendocino bed-and-breakfast. Food will be provided by Sauced, with dessert by Three Twins ice cream.

When? Tuesday, April 18, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Where? Lagunitas Brewing Company, 1280 N. McDowell Blvd.

How Much? $25 for adults, $30 at the door, kids under 12 are free. Information and tickets? www.cots-homeless.org

Here on the second floor is where various services are provided, with offices for case-managers, therapists, nurse practitioners, and the organization’s “disability benefits ninja,” to use Morris’s words. In some of the other office spaces are services for disabled folks seeking permanent housing, and COTS “rapid rehousing” program.

Then there is “the magic room,” a child-friendly area full of crafts supplies and books. On the blackboard are written the words, “Hopeful. Content. Helpful. Thankful, Pleased. Grateful.”

“Good words,” smiles Morris, adding, “The kids here just built a lot of party favors for the Lagunitas event. They’re super-crafty, these kids.”

The Center’s family quarters — with rooms that resemble a very basic summer-camp cabin, with bunkbeds and little else – are also up on the second floor, and are considered transitional housing for families awaiting assistance in gaining a safe home of their own.

“It sure isn’t the Ritz,” says Morris. “But it’s way better than the back seat of a car.”

Morris has been with COTS, in various capacities, since November of 2001. In her role as Manager of Community Engagement, she works with the businesses sector to encourage their support, and arranges various benefit and fundraising events.

“Every fundraising effort is significant because there is so much uncertainty around funding right now,” Morris says. “That’s not something we’re necessarily worried about,” she allows. “Over the years we’ve had funding crisis after funding crisis, and we’ve weathered them all, so far. But there are funding gaps, and we appreciate it when the community steps up to help fill in those gaps.”

Morris says the event at Lagunitas could prove a significant Spring fundraiser, but is also important as a way to gather supporters and staff to celebrate what COTS has accomplished in Petaluma over the years.

“This is serious business, the work we do, but we have fun with it, also,” she notes. “So the event will mainly just be a lot of fun, because, the truth is, helping others is a very joyful thing.”

(Email David at david.templeton@argus-courier.com)