Volunteer of the Year Marge Popp cooking at the kitchen at COTS on Tuesday April 1, 2014.

Marge Popp: Volunteer of the Year

For her 32 years of service preparing meals for Petaluma's homeless, 89-year-old Marge Popp was named Petaluma's Volunteer of the Year for 2104.

Born and raised in Petaluma, Popp was feted at Petaluma's Community Awards of Excellence event March 27 at the Sheraton Petaluma Hotel, hosted by the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce, the Petaluma Argus-Courier and the Sheraton.

Laurie Braly, who has volunteered alongside Popp for about a year and half, nominated Popp for the award after learning that she had never received formal recognition for her decades of service at the Committee of the Shelterless (COTS).

"I was surprised she hadn't won it before," said Braly. "She's a kick. She's a terrific lady and she's very humble."

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7 a.m., Popp arrives at the COTS kitchen on Hooper Street to cook lunch for 125 people, not leaving until after clean up around 1 p.m.

"She doesn't like to be called it, but she's our head chef," said Braly, "She's got a lot of energy. It's kind of amazing."

Popp was sent into early retirement nearly 40 years ago when the creamery she worked at in Petaluma was sold. Looking for a way to fill her time, she wound up at COTS cooking lunch for anyone in the community who was in need of a good meal.

"I'm really not a cook," said Popp, unassumingly. "I've never had any formal training."

Popp has been cooking ever since that first day at the center and makes meals with food that is often donated to COTS from local markets.

Said Braly, "She loves what she does and she's a hoot to work with."

Braly wasn't kidding about Popp being humble. Despite her obvious passion for what she does, Popp makes light of her years of volunteering, and credits the rest of the COTS volunteers for keeping the center running.

"I just try to make a nice meal for the people that come here," said Popp, "It was very nice of them, but I think everybody deserved to be nominated."

According to Mike Johnson, CEO of COTS, "Marge has hardly missed a day of work in all those years, and by my calculations has logged over 25,000 hours volunteering as head cook at the Petaluma Kitchen. That's like working 12-and-a-half years full time for free!"

Popp opted not to attend the ceremony to receive her award in person, due to recent minor surgery. However, Braly says it hasn't slowed her down at all and suspects Popp was happy to have a reason not to go.

"There are other people that work just as hard," said Popp. "But I just love it, and I love the people who come."

(Contact Kaitlin Zitelli at argus@arguscourier.com)

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