Community’s help sought again for food, gift donation programs

Star Report

With Halloween’s arrival, attention at People Helping People (PHP) turns to preparations for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

PHP coordinates valley-wide programs to serve those in need at Thanksgiving and Christmas, so staff and volunteers are already very busy 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 between 185 and 225 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 the Tuesday prior to the holiday.

Justin Wilkins, who is responsible for the food program at PHP, indicated that it is an annual struggle to meet the growing needs of the community.

“The Santa Barbara County Foodbank is always hard pressed to collect enough turkey donations for all the nonprofits it supports. 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,” Wilkins said.

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 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 that PHP can begin taking donations immediately. You may also call Victor at 686-0295 to arrange a donation or even a pick-up.

Even before Thanksgiving arrives, PHP must also begin planning for its 22nd annual valley-wide Christmas program, named “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 official organization in the Santa Ynez and Los Alamos Valleys designated by the Marine Corps Reserve to accept Toys 4 Tots donations.

Although families must meet income qualifications to participate in the PHP Fulfill-A-Wish program, the eligibility and distribution process is completed with the utmost sensitivity to and respect for the dignity of the families.

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 96 families, including 232 children.

Erica Valdés, PHP Associate Development Director, 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.

According to Valdés, many of those assisted are victims of domestic violence, single moms, and very-low-income families working in the local service and agricultural industries.

PHP will distribute Christmas gifts from the Fulfill-A-Wish Boutique, which will be located in a donated store front. The Boutique, opened for the first time in 1995, will be decorated, stocked by volunteers, and be ready for operation on December 19, 20, and 21.  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. Wilkins said that the boutique will be open each evening in order to accommodate working families.

PHP’s Chief Executive Officer, Dean Palius, said 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 in the Valley.  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,” Palius added.

To make donating to Fulfill-A-Wish convenient, gift-wrapped donation boxes advertising Toys 4 Tots and “wish lists” will be available throughout the valley beginning in early November.

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, purchase any of the items on the wish list, and drop them — unwrapped — into one of the donation boxes around the community or deliver them to the People Helping People offices at 545 North Alisal Road, Solvang.

Individuals and families can support PHP’s Fulfill-A-Wish Program and help make this a happier holiday season for Valley families and children with a donation of a gift, wrapping paper, or cash; placement of a donation box in a business; or by volunteering time to fulfill Christmas wishes.

For additional information, contact Marisela at People Helping People at 686-0295.