By Raiza Giorgi

During the holiday season many shops in the Santa Ynez Valley are usually bustling with people getting gifts, people enjoying the many experiences from wine tasting to horseback rides, and restaurants full with reservations of families celebrating the holidays. 

However, in a year that has seen everything affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, things are different in 2020.

“I got laid off from my restaurant job and I am a single mom to four kids,” said Ella, whose name has been changed as she didn’t feel comfortable giving her name. “Luckily two of them are grown but I still can’t afford to get them gifts; I am barely getting by. I am so thankful to People Helping People for being there for me and my family during this hard time.” 

Ella has lived in the valley for more than 20 years and worked in the restaurant industry as a server. She said she was back at work until the last shutdown when her employer had to cut most of the staff. 

Ella is one of hundreds of people who will benefit from the Fulfill A Wish program through Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People and will be able to go on Friday or Saturday to pick out gifts for her family. 

“This is my first time volunteering for this event, and I have to say the community has really stepped up to make this holiday special for local families in need,” said Joe Tyson, PHP board member.

As volunteers were sorting and separating gifts, a car pulled up with several giant bags of toys, sports equipment and gift cards from Lemay Personal Fitness in Solvang.

“Our clients brought in these amazing gifts and we even got a few hundred dollars of cash, which we went to local shops to purchase more gifts which helps our locals too. Everyone wins,” said Katherine Lemay.

Roughly 477 people including 115 families, 86 teens, 162 kids, 14 babies and four expectant mothers were approved to participate in this year’s program, according to Mayra Ramos, program director for PHP. 

“We are up 62 percent from last year as we served 220 individuals,” Ramos said. “The good thing about this program is we are able to identify and help people with other needs from housing subsidies, access to state programs like CalFresh and Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC). We also help those who lost their job navigate unemployment.” 

Ramos said they are taking donations year-round, even after this year’s event ends as they stockpile for the future and are always in need of donations. 

Ramos said to visit for those who need ideas of what to donate or donate online.