By Raiza Giorgi

The Santa Ynez Valley community has come out in force with helping their neighbors to the south that have been affected by the Thomas Fire burning in south Santa Barbara County and Ventura County. As people have been evacuated and the blaze has destroyed more than 1,000 structures and damaged 229 others, it has scorched more than 269,000 acres since the fire started on Dec. 4 near Santa Paula.

Many people in the valley have heard about all the families that have lost their homes in the weeks before Christmas, and stepped up to offer comfort and items in need.

“We wanted to host a hot chocolate stand to raise money for the families, but it was too smokey outside so we did a GoFundMe instead. It’s sad to think about all those kids who don’t have a home on Christmas, we wanted to help them,” said Kaidan Kurowski, 11, of Santa Ynez Valley.

Kaidan and his five siblings along with the help from their mother Brittany, set up a page and raised more than $1,300 in less than 24 hours and hit their goal of $1,500 in two days. The kids took the money and went on a shopping spree at Toys ‘R Us in Ventura and donated all the toys they could fit into their van and dropped them off at the Catholic Charities Ventura Community Center. Watch the video of them dropping off here.

The Kurowski kids at Toys ‘R Us.
Photo by Brittany Kurowski

Each of the older Kurowski kids said they had their own cart and liked getting to pick out toys and gifts for their age group. Kash said he made sure there were Nerf guns, while younger sister Kalei said her favorite toy she picked out was a tattoo machine.

“The staff at Toys ‘R Us were amazing, and the other customers that waited behind us patiently in line. As a mom it’s already daunting taking kids into a toy store, but I am really proud that none of my kids, even the younger ones, asked to take anything for themselves,” Kurowski said.

Kurowski said when they showed up at the Catholic Charities center the volunteers were so thankful. They plan on taking more donations that have shown up at her door even after their GoFundMe reached their goal.

The Kurowski kids raised $1,300 in 24 hours to purchase toys for fire victims of the Thomas Fire.
Photo by Brittany Kurowski

The Kurowski kids and volunteers at the Catholic Charities Ventura Community Center unloading $1,300 worth of toys for Thomas Fire victims.
Photo by Brittany Kurowski

Other Santa Ynez Valley businesses have also hosted fundraising or donation events at their locations such as Matt and Kiel Cavalli of ONEderChild Children’s Gifts and Consignment in Buellton.

“We are accepting clothing sizes newborn through 8 years old, and the valley has delivered. We also asked for diapers and wipes and have been provided with all that and more. People have dropped off formula, toys, and socks. One customer went to Costco and bought brand new pajamas,” Matt Cavalli said.

He added that multiple customers of theirs have given up their consignment balance for people to purchase clothes if they had older kids or needed more items than ONEderChild could provide.

Donations for Thomas Fire victims at ONEderChild in Buellton
Photo contributed

“We opted to keep donations in the store versus sending them out so the kids would have a sense of security in a fun mellow store. We pull the bins they need by size and help them shop and try on as if they were shopping in the store. The best part is that it’s all free,” Cavalli added.

Pilates instructor Allison Howie who owns Studio Joie de Vie in Santa Ynez took donations of clothes and everyday household items to the Unity Shoppe in Santa Barbara.

“This valley amazes me with all the people who are concerned for those that have lost their homes or have been evacuated,” Howie said.

The newest doggie day care Hollon’s Hounds that opened in November in Santa Ynez, has taken in 65 animals from the Thomas Fire and is either keeping them for their owners until their situations are stable or finding homes for the owners that can’t take care of their animals anymore.

“If anyone wishes to help we are accepting donations at the Tractor Supply in Buellton, we have an account set up there or you can donate through our Milton’s Mutts nonprofit. It’s a tragic situation,” said Breann Hollon, owner of Hollon’s Hounds and director of Milton’s Mutts.

This Great Dane puppy who’s middle name will be Cory after the fallen firefighter, found a new home with the Ayala family of Buellton through Hollon’s Hounds.

They need dog food, bowls, beds, toys or monetary support.

For more information find them on Facebook at Hollon’s Hounds.

Pollyrich Farms in Buellton was hosting a donation drive and will be taking items down to the fire victims on Monday if anyone has anything they would like to donate. They are located at 468 Ballard Canyon Road in Buellton.

Santa Ynez Valley resident Pam Fisher said she donated several bags of clothes to the donation drive at the bowling alley in Santa Maria.

Resident Matt Lamberton of Solvang has been collecting items to donate and making several trips to Santa Barbara to drop off at various charities.

Local chiropractor Jim Hazard is offering free chiropractic care for firefighters if they are able to make it to his office at 2027 Village Lane in Solvang. Contact him at 805-686-2064 if you are a firefighter and would like to get seen this next week.

Several ranchers and horse boarding facilities offered shelter for larger animals such as Nojoqui Horse Ranch in Gaviota. Horse trainer Amber Giorgi Mallea said they have room for several more, contact her at 805-325-1941 or through her website at Also contact Andrea at the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center at 805-588-4521 for available space.

Jacobsen Hay and Feed delivers feed for large animals at Earl Warren Showgrounds.
Photo contributed

The Santa Ynez Feed and Mill is accepting donations for pet and livestock feed and they have been taking loads down to the various fairgrounds in Ventura and Santa Barbara for those animals displaced. Jacobsen Hay and Feed has also been delivering hay and feed for large animals.

St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church has offered their facilities during the day if anyone would like to come rest, meditate, pray or use their wifi.

“You’ll also find water for your dog in the courtyard and, on especially hot days, there will be ice water for you, as well,” St. Mark’s staff wrote.

Catholic Charities is accepting donations of gently used clothing as well as new toys and clothing to be given as Christmas gifts to families displaced by the fires. Donations can be dropped off at Catholic Charities’ Ventura Community Services Center at 303 N. Ventura Ave. Ventura, CA 93001.

The charity has also established a special fund to help offset the cost of home repairs. Donations can be made to the Catholic Charities website.

The Salvation Army Ventura Corps has set up shop at the Ventura County Fairgrounds and is asking for donations of food and water as it works to help evacuees.

As the charity’s other chapters assist in various evacuation centers, Salvation Army is asking for monetary donations to support its work. Those wishing to donate can do so by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY or visiting the organization’s website.

The United Way of Santa Barbara County and United Way of Ventura County, American Red Cross of Ventura County and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services have teamed up to create the Thomas Fire Fund. All proceeds will go directly to support the hundreds of residents displaced by the fires.