Staff Report

With Halloween already celebrated, People Helping People is focused on preparations for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

PHP coordinates seasonal valley-wide programs to serve those in need at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and staff and volunteers are already planning their projects, requesting donations of turkeys, and recruiting additional volunteers to distribute turkeys and gifts during these holidays.

To make these programs successful, PHP needs assistance from community members.

At Thanksgiving, PHP expands its regular biweekly food program to distribute turkeys and all the fixings to approximately 250 low-income families and seniors. To do this, PHP must obtain food donations to supplement the nearly 10,000 pounds of food it normally delivers on the Tuesday prior to the holiday.

Justin Wilkins, who is responsible for the food program at PHP, said it is an annual struggle to meet the community’s growing needs.

“The Santa Barbara County Foodbank is always hard pressed to collect enough turkey donations for all the nonprofits it supports,” he said. “We have not received turkeys from them in a number of years. Therefore, If we cannot acquire enough donated turkeys from the community, we are forced to turn families away. It is truly heartbreaking when we have to tell someone we just don’t have enough.”

PHP begins planning for Thanksgiving early with the hope that by alerting the public to the need for turkeys, they can help all the families who are income-qualified for assistance.

Donations of turkeys and other traditional accompaniments, “turkey Bucks” from grocery stores, or cash gifts for those items can be made at PHP’s Service Center at 545 North Alisal Road in Solvang.

PHP staff has already arranged for freezer and storage space so they can begin taking donations immediately. To arrange a donation or even a pick-up, call Victor at 686-0295.

Even before Thanksgiving arrives, PHP must also begin planning for its 23rd annual valley-wide Christmas program, called “Fulfill-A-Wish.”

In the true spirit of the Christmas season, a large cast of PHP staff and volunteers partner with Toys 4 Tots to distribute toys, gifts and clothing to families throughout the area. PHP is the only one official organization in the Santa Ynez and Los Alamos Valleys designated by the Marine Corps Reserve to accept Toys 4 Tots donations.

According to PHP’s Wilkins, PHP is able to serve Los Alamos in large part due to a grant from the Los Alamos Men’s Club.

All items distributed at Fulfill-A-Wish are derived from donated materials or purchased with cash gifts specified for that purpose. More than $20,000 in goods and 50 volunteers are needed to help fulfill families’ most basic needs at Christmas. Last year, PHP’s Fulfill-A-Wish Program assisted 79 families, including more than 200 children.

PHP Associate Development Director Erica Valdés said that the overwhelming gratitude displayed by parents who are enabled to provide something on Christmas day for their kids makes the tremendous organizational effort worthwhile.

“It is a wonderful feeling to help so many celebrate who otherwise could not,” Valdés said. Many of those assisted are victims of domestic violence, single moms, and very low-income families working in the local service and agricultural industries, she added.

PHP will distribute Christmas gifts from the Fulfill-A-Wish Boutique, which will be set up in a storefront donated by the Richman family at the previous location of the PHP Thrift Store in Solvang at 1980 Old Mission Drive.

The boutique, successfully opened for the first time in 1995, will be decorated, stocked by volunteers, and ready for operation on Dec. 18 and 19. On those days, families and individuals meeting the PHP eligibility criteria will be scheduled to visit the boutique and choose a limited number of gifts based upon the size of their family. PHP’s Wilkins indicated that the boutique will be open each evening in order to accommodate working families.

“The Fulfill-A-Wish program represents the very best of the valley community. It is an amazing outpouring of generosity of many individuals and groups,” said PHP Chief Executive Officer Dean Palius. “A great debt of gratitude is owed to the many businesses, schools, churches, and agencies that sponsor locations for donation boxes, the staff of Christensen and Drake that donate many hours to set up and decorate the boutique, and to the many other generous volunteers and donors who give of their time, toys, clothing and funds.”

To make donating to Fulfill-A-Wish convenient, donation boxes advertising Toys 4 Tots and “wish lists” are now available throughout the valley. And, new this year, PHP and the Rotary Club of Buellton are making additional boxes available to collect gently worn coats to help people get through the winter months.

In addition to the hundreds of toys needed each year, the Fulfill-A-Wish program is especially in need of clothing for children, from infants to teens, and gift items suitable for teens. According to PHP staff, gift cards are a great option for teen contributions.

Individuals or groups interested in making a donation can receive a list of recommended items from PHP (686-0295), purchase any of the items on the wish list, and drop them unwrapped in one of the donation boxes around the community or deliver them to the People Helping People Offices at 545 North Alisal Road in Solvang.

Individuals and families can support the program with a donation of a gift, wrapping paper, or cash; placement of a donation box in a business; or by volunteering to fulfill Christmas wishes.

For more information, call Marisela at People Helping People at 686-0295.