People Helping People Planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas Service Programs Is In High Gear

With Halloween already celebrated, attention at People Helping People (PHP) is on preparations for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. PHP coordinates valley-wide programs to serve those in need at Thanksgiving and Christmas and 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 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 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 non-profits 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 income-qualified for assistance. Donations of turkeys and other traditional accompaniments, “turkey Bucks”, 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 23rd 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 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.

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 fifty 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.

Erica Valdés, PHP Brand & Marketing Manager 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, said Valdés.” 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 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 be ready for operation on December 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.

PHP’s Chief Executive Officer, Dean Palius, stated that “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.”

To make donating to Fulfill-A-Wish convenient, donation boxes advertising Toys 4 Tots and “wish lists” will be available throughout the Valley beginning in mid -November. And, new this year, PHP and the Rotary Club of Buellton are making additional boxes available to collect gently worn coats to help individuals 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, 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, you may contact Marisela at People Helping People at 686-0295.