Staff Report

To meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Buellton Senior Center has nearly tripled the number of meals it provides daily throughout the Santa Ynez Valley and Los Alamos and has taken on new responsibilities for feeding the hungry. 

In response, the Vikings of Solvang have donated $5,000 to support the center’s efforts.

 “Our mission is to help qualified local people and organizations with their medically related needs,” said Vikings Chief Richard Kline, “and in this case, helping to keep people healthy when they would otherwise go hungry is completely fitting. Nutrition in a time of hunger is clearly a medically related need.”

Senior Center Executive Director Pam Gnekow said that in the first three weeks after community-wide COVID-19 closures began on March 9, the center began serving 324 lunches per day instead of its average of 133.

“At the same time we had to close our Thrift Store, our main source of income, and reduce payroll,” Gnekow said. “We couldn’t do it without the Vikings. The Vikings always come through for us.”

In addition to delivering the Meals on Wheels lunches, the center is providing prepared meals for community distribution twice a week at St. Mark’s Church and has delivered more than 87,000 pounds of fresh produce to seniors who cannot shop safely during the pandemic.

The Vikings of Solvang have quietly provided $3 million in aid since the group was founded in 1974, solely on the strength of tax-deductible donations from Vikings members and others in the community. About $1 million of the total has been given to individuals. The other $2 million has been donated to organizations such as local senior centers or spent on the Vikings’ annual Christmas party for special-needs children and their teachers in northern Santa Barbara County.

The group has zero overhead costs because it has no employees or office, and members pay for all operating costs — so every penny donated goes directly to helping someone. Each donation is invested in a carefully managed endowment fund, which has allowed the group to maximize each dollar donated by earning interest on it. Only a portion of the interest from the endowment, not the principal, can be spent each year, so donations to the fund help in perpetuity.

Vikings grants have helped local people build wheelchair ramps, get prosthetic limbs, buy disabled-accessible vehicles, pay their insurance deductibles and fulfill many other needs.

The group also operates two large blood drives each year and provides each donor with a $25 gift voucher for dinner at a local restaurant.

To apply for a grant from the Vikings, donate to the group’s endowment fund, or get other information, go to or contact Chief Richard Kline at or 213-716-1111.