People Helping People Expands and Alters Its Services in Santa Ynez Valley and Los Alamos

People Helping People (PHP), a nonprofit with a nearly $1.9 million budget providing a range of services to low-income residents in the Santa Ynez Valley, Los Alamos, and surrounding communities, has implemented new programs and expanded others to meet new and rising needs brought on by the pandemic. COVID safety concerns have caused some programs to go digital. PHP is a nimble organization, according to CEO Dean Palius, that has pivoted to meet the community’s needs and will continue to do so.

Pre-COVID, clients could drop in to its Solvang Service Center, or, for those with kids, its Family Resource Centers located on school campuses throughout the Valley, to access its youth and parent counseling services; health-care assistance, which includes referrals, vouchers, and negotiated rates with private providers; rental and utility assistance; and referrals for other services. With COVID, these centers have shuttered, but staff continues to provide services via phone and counseling sessions through Zoom, with counseling now open to anyone, not just children and parents. Chief Program Officer Mayra Marquez related that digital delivery of services took quite a bit of promotion and the numbers served are still down, but more clients are now receptive to the new model.

Photo: CourtesyBoard President Francisca Escobar

PHP’s food distribution in Solvang went from a pre-COVID interval of biweekly to six times per month, but with a recent decrease in demand, it has gone down to weekly. Biweekly distribution in Los Alamos has continued. Ongoing donations and purchases from the Foodbank of S.B. County and donations from USDA were supplemented this spring by an emergency grant from the City of Solvang and matching community donations, enabling PHP to distribute more than 250,000 pounds of food from March through June.

With the Great Plates Delivered Program, PHP came to the aid of seniors who were not comfortable venturing out for food. With funding from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), the CA Office of Emergency Services, and the City of Solvang, PHP identified seniors in need, and its staff and volunteers, along with restaurant staff, delivered three hot meals daily from three local restaurants. In its seven-week run that recently ended, 2,500 meals were delivered. 

In another program that ran for about six weeks this spring, PHP staff delivered meals prepared by Bell’s Restaurant to 20 seniors in Los Alamos. The twice-weekly program was funded by a private donation.

In addition to meal delivery, PHP staff has been aiding seniors with other needs arising out of COVID. Nearly 100 seniors have benefited, many on a regular basis, from services including the delivery of mail, groceries, cleaning supplies, and prescriptions, and organizing tele-health appointments. 

Photo: CourtesyPHP staff members assemble food for distribution.

In a program started pre-COVID, PHP continues to deliver weekend food bags to about 25 students in Buellton and Solvang who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. 

On the domestic-violence front, PHP continues its partnership with the S.B. County Sheriff whereby a PHP staff advocate (or PHP volunteer on nights and weekends) goes to the scene where there is a domestic disturbance. Since COVID began, there has been a huge decrease in calls, which Executive Director Dean Palius attributes to a fear of reporting in these tough economic times, not to any actual decrease in crime incidence. PHP continues to provide a full range of assistance to victims — food, rent and utility assistance, counseling, and referrals to Domestic Violence Solutions and other agencies.

A PPP loan fortunately covered the $180,000 loss PHP incurred from the cancellation of its fundraisers this year, but future federal aid is uncertain, while the needs of the community will certainly continue.

Palius has been at the helm for 25 years but is retiring at the end of August. His successor is Solvang resident Valerie Kissell, who since 2016 has served as executive director for Youth and Family Services, Channel Islands YMCA.

Kissell shared that she is thrilled to be part of PHP’s team. “During times when our neighbors are in survival mode, perhaps experiencing crisis, trauma, or poverty, they may have no idea how to access the support systems and mainstream benefits that are available to them. This is the beauty of People Helping People, a one-stop service agency providing support and assistance under one roof.”

For more info or to make a donation, go to syvphp.org.

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