Providing Food, Support and Care during COVID


One of the most basic and vital human needs is having food to eat. In 2020, food insecurity was on the rise for many in the Bay Area, especially for the homeless and those precariously housed.

One organization knows this more than most. For 32 years, the Committee on the Shelterless, COTS, based in Petaluma, CA, assists those experiencing homelessness in finding and keeping housing, increasing self-sufficiency and improving well-being. They provide hot and nutritious meals daily to anyone in need. When COVID-19 hit in March, the team had to move quickly. And squarely at the heart of those plans and shifts was COTS staff member, Chef Janin Harmon.

Chef Janin started with COTS in November 2019 as the Chef of Mary’s Table. From her first days, COTS knew she was someone special to serve their community. “Janin truly cares about serving our shelter residents and those in the community in need of a meal the best possible quality and nutritious meals,” shared Chuck Fernandez, COTS CEO. “They say ‘one first eats with their eyes’ and her meals are just mouth-watering, beautiful and rival pictures in any food magazine!”

Chef Janin had to quickly – practically overnight – move from leading a full-service restaurant to a boxed meal program. In addition to serving the individuals and families in their program, COTS also feeds a significant number of homeless and food-disadvantaged people throughout their community. And their hero Janin has done so for the past nine months without missing a beat.

“My main goal and focus is we are feeding people. So we had to find a way and keep going,” shared Janin.

Janin also recruited her family to step in and get creative to keep the food services working. COTS relies on food picked up from local stores and normally a crew of volunteers would drive around and manage the pick-ups during the week. As all of the volunteers are over 65, COTS could not deploy their trusted and dedicated volunteer network safely during COVID. So Janin’s husband does all the food pick up now.

Despite not having their usual army of volunteers in the Kitchen either, Chef Janin still manages to prepare and serve healthy and delicious meals. From normally working with a crew of 15 down to 4, Janin kept all the food services going for COTS. “I do well under pressure,” commented Janin. “I thrive best in chaotic situations. I don’t mind skiing up the hill!”

In a prior role, Janin was the manager at a popular restaurant chain. One day, her boss asked her to ask the homeless man sleeping in front of the restaurant to move along. “I said to myself, well not without bringing him a cup of coffee first,” reflected Janin. When she returned back inside after talking with him and giving him a warm cup to go, her boss said to Janin that she should go work at a food bank, rather snidely. And Janin thought to herself, you know that is a very good idea.

Janin reflected:

“I remember standing in food lines with my mom. I understand the struggle. It is hard right now. My mom struggled, worked three jobs, I know the feeling of not having. I like being in the position to help people. This work feeds my soul. If people need someone to talk to, solve problems, we will put our heads together and help. We have resources here to help. I love my job every day,…every day.

When you sit down for one of my meals, I want you to forget that you are homeless in that moment. You are at peace with delicious food made with love. Food can be a form of meditation and healing. This is what I want for my community.”

Having worked in the kitchen with Janin, Chuck shared that Janin refuses to turn anyone away for a meal even if they show up after the kitchen closes, and she will always give them something to eat. Always. And before COVID, she could often be seen sitting with some of the shelter residents during mealtime just talking and getting to know them and building a relationship. She is truly a hero!

Visit COTS today to learn more about their programs.





Hungry, humble and hopeful – an ode to the fundraisers of 2020

Contributed by Melissa Irish, PRG Managing Associate

Most of us, especially those over 35, became fundraisers by accident. We may have worked for human rights causes in college marching in the streets with signs of protest, served abroad in third world countries administering basic health care, or led inner city youth on outdoor adventures to share our love of nature. By some strange and unplanned twist of fate, we realized that we could harness our passions for good and raise the necessary resources to help them thrive! Asking for money didn’t scare us, we loved working in teams and didn’t mind the pressure of an impossible goal. Rather we thrived on it. We got a dizzy thrill when hitting our targets, we liked networking and throwing parties. A fundraiser was born.

And what would we do without fundraisers? The fuel for our fires would wane, the resources needed to fight the good fight would go untapped and the abundance of wealth in the world would not be channeled for the greater good. In short, our collective dreams and vision for a better world would have no lift.

It is because of this, our final article of the year is an ode to development professionals, a special breed of smart, scrappy, lightening quick heroes. This year in particular, our courageous fundraising leaders faced unprecedented challenges and stood tirelessly to meet them. The world literally crashed around them, their organizations were thrown into disarray and the need for the missions became ever more essential or worse, put on the back burner while the attention of donors shifted to fight the pandemic.

Development teams and fundraisers had to figure out how to stay relevant, continue to be the consummate cheerleader, define and disseminate the ever-changing messages of their organizations as they responded to the awful realities of 2020. They had to reach out and listen to their donors, paying (virtual) pastoral visits again and again, absorbing supporters’ concerns and heart aches. They pivoted, pivoted and pivoted again, feeling like a twirling ballerina on steroids planning for virtual events, online major donor meetings, and ways to keep their staff motivated, productive and focused. This often while becoming full-time parents and teachers.

So THANK YOU to the hundreds of thousands of fundraising soldiers, the hungry, humble and hopeful warriors who kept our beloved institutions open for business- our homeless shelters, food banks, museums, schools, health care clinics, legal aid organizations and more – and provided the fuel to keep the fires of justice burning.

For this we applaud you, we are forever grateful to serve you at PRG and look forward to walking by your side in 2021 to make sense of this all, ruminate on lessons learned, and say good riddance to what we hope to never have to do again.

Fundraisers are amazing.

Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash