Staff Report

From a storefront donated by the Richmond Family at Valley Plaza in Solvang, People Helping People furnished Christmas toys, clothing, and housewares to 76 families, including 190 children, valued at $20,000 on Dec. 18-19.

New this year, PHP joined forces with the Buellton Rotary Club to collect and furnish warm coats.  PHP also distributed 10,000 pounds of food, including turkeys, hams and chickens, to 250 families in need in the Santa Ynez and Los Alamos valleys through its biweekly food distribution program.

Justin Wilkins, PHP’s Fulfill-A-Wish Program Coordinator, said that toy and other donations dipped this year. He speculated that the Thomas Fire and resultant poor air quality kept local people from shopping prior to the holiday.

“Normally we are able to carry over a number of toys to start off the new year. This year we have none, but we were still able to accommodate all of our qualified families,” Wilkins said.

Dean Palius, PHP’s Chief Executive, said that the majority of families who were helped work in the hospitality, tourist, and agricultural industries. Wages in these industries just do not keep up with the costs of living here, he added.

“Consider that rents increased 43 and 17 percent, respectively, in Buellton and Solvang during the past three years to an average of $1,470 per month and that the majority of these working-poor families earn a little more than the federal poverty level. For a family of four that income is $2,789 per month. So, they are barely able to make ends meet. Frequently, they are forced to make difficult choices each month regarding which bills to pay: rent, food, utilities or prescriptions. For these hard-working parents, Christmas gifts are a luxury and are not even on their list,” Palius said.

For the past 22 years, PHP has opened a space for a Fulfill-A-Wish “boutique” in donated retail space to help families enjoy the celebration of Christmas. Qualified families can select one household item and two to three toys for each child, take them home for wrapping, and present them to their children.

“We think that this method of giving preserves the dignity of parents and strengthens families,” Palius said.

This year PHP was helped financially by a significant grant from the Los Alamos Men’s Club; volunteers from Christensen and Drake; and food from the Chumash Casino Resort, Santa Ynez High School, and Dunn School.

To learn more about PHP, its programs, and ways to help, visit or call 686-0295.