By Raiza Giorgi

As the evolution of the Buellton Senior Center has changed to fit the needs of the community, Executive Director Pam Gnekow said that the name no longer really fit what they were doing especially with the onset of COVID-19. The pandemic was the catalyst and the organization decided to rename itself Santa Ynez Valley Community Outreach as of September. 

“Our reach is far beyond just the seniors in Buellton, and our mission has changed,” Gnekow said. “We have grown up from our tiny existence behind the library.” 

That isn’t the only change happening as the Buellton Senior Thrift Shop is getting an upgrade with a grant from the Los Olivos Rotary Club, which also included free labor. “The thrift shop was so cluttered and in desperate need of a face lift,” Gnekow said. 

“We are so incredibly thankful to the Los Olivos Rotary and our volunteers for helping.” 

When Los Olivos Rotary President Chris Bashforth learned of the grant request, she was so excited to help fulfill it. 

“A lot of our members love doing community service, and we decided this year to keep our efforts close to home,” Bashforth said. “This project is perfect as so many of us are in construction and wanted to help.” 

Volunteers spent days in the excessive heat wave in September painting the inside and outside of the Buellton Senior Thrift Shop.
Photo by Raiza Giorgi

Gnekow said that the Rotary came in and fixed all the things that needed fixing before painting the entire exterior and interior and building a new outdoor garage to house the furniture. 

“The thrift shop is the lifeblood for our Meals on Wheel program, and we can’t wait to open back up and show off our “new” space to the community,” Gnekow glowed. 

Before Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the stay-at-home orders in mid-March, the Buellton Senior Center was averaging about 175 meals a day. That number has since almost doubled to 320 meals a day and the center has distributed more than 82,000 pounds of food through its farmers market table, which is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. 

“Our farmers market name is now Santa Ynez Valley Neighbors Table, as there are so many from not just Buellton and the valley communities, but Lompoc and Santa Maria that are welcome to shop. We want all our ‘neighbors’ to get good nutrition,” Gnekow said. 

The facility serves the Santa Ynez Valley and surrounding communities with more than just food support, but mental support as well. Since this virus is most harmful to the older population, and those with underlying conditions from heart and lung diseases, Gnekow said some of her seniors are afraid to leave their homes. 

“More than ever we need to be connected, even if we can’t be close to one another, we can still connect and help each other,” Gnekow said. “We are so grateful for all the people and organizations that are stepping up to do something — every little bit helps.” 

Los Olivos Rotary volunteer Inge-Lise Pedersen paints the inside of the Buellton Senior Thrift Store.
Photo by Raiza Giorgi

If the seniors are too afraid to leave their homes, Gnekow said she is bringing them breakfast every first Thursday, and doing “date night” every fourth Thursday to check up on them. 

Aside from the senior population Gnekow said that young families have also been in need of their services from food to getting connected with other agencies. 

“Never before have we as the non-profit community worked together like this,” she said. “If there’s one positive from this whole awful situation, is that we are communicating more and helping everyone get served.” 

Gnekow added they could always use additional help from volunteers, whose duties would include taking lunches for Meals on Wheels, helping sort through produce and stocking the produce tables. If people are too nervous about being in person, they can donate monetarily that will also provide help for their programs. 

Until a new website has been created for the SYV Community Outreach, you can still find information for the Buellton Senior Center at