Photo by Trina Kleist

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. January 17, 2017 – The Gratitude Bowl at What’s Up Coffee in Grass Valley works like this:

Customers plunk money into a clear glass block at the front counter. When donations reach $5, café owner Angie Buist takes out the cash and drops it in the cash register. On a sign hanging off the customer side of the register, Buist writes “1” – indicating she has one bowl of hot soup available for a hungry person who needs it.

“I gave out two bowls today,” Buist said during a recent rainy day.

Photo by Trina Kleist

The Gratitude Bowl is one of many nonprofit organizations and causes supported by Buist, 49, sole operator of the cozy coffee shop at 1110 E. Main St. in midtown. (The vintage house formerly was home to Caroline’s Coffee, which still supplies java and cups.)

Buist – her name rhymes with “mew” – has lived rough times of her own. She has a soft spot for animals and folks down on their luck, but doesn’t have the dough to give, she said. So instead, she helps the helpers, often by being a drop-off center for nonprofits working directly with the needy.

Over December, the meeting room to the rear of What’s Up Coffee was filled with clothes for homeless teenagers trying to stay in school. Bags of dog food, collars and leashes piled up under a table. All of it awaited pick-up.

At other times of the year, Buist might shelter tents, tarps and warm socks for homeless people. Perhaps clothes, linens, kitchen gear and grocery gift cards for fire victims. Lately, a special umbrella with ultraviolet protection for a blind girl whose own pricey bumbershoot was stolen.

“That’s what I do,” said Buist, simply and shyly.

Here are some of the efforts Buist supports at What’s Up Coffee:

  • Nevada County Pets of the Homeless – Supports pets of local homeless people with food, supplies and veterinary services. Get a free cup of coffee with a donation.
  • Savannah’s Angels – Provides clothing and related needs for babies up to teen-agers; they need clothes of all sizes, diapers and baby wipes, and other children’s items.
  • Sierra Roots – Provides meals and needed items to chronically homeless people in Nevada County; working to build a micro-village of tiny houses.
  • Nevada Union High School Band Boosters – Supports the high school’s Instrumental Music Program, which provides musical and choreographical instruction and performance opportunities.
  • M3 Mall – Buist is a queen for this beauty and wellness center, serving as an ambassador for nonprofit events and fundraisers.
  • Fire victims – What’s Up serves as a drop-off center for groups and churches collecting items to help victims of fire.
  • The Friendship Club – Every swipe on the credit card reader sends a percentage of the sale to this local organization keeping at-risk girls in school. and
  • Gratitude Bowls – Feeds hungry people at local eateries by arranging for meals to be paid in advance.

What’s Up Coffee

Where: 1110 E. Main St., Grass Valley

When: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.

More: Comfy meeting room seats 8-9 people; costs $10/hour.

Contact info: (530) 273-1916 and on Facebook

Grass Valley-based freelance writer Trina Kleist can be reached at or (530) 575-6132.