BUELLTON, Calif. - The Buellton community now has a bustling, rejuvenated center for veterans, seniors and the at-risk members locally and within a short driving distance of the site on Highway 246 behind the Post Office.
The Santa Ynez Valley Community Outreach building is a series of connected rooms centered around a donated building from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Within the patchwork of areas, volunteers scurry around to fill bags of food, prepare hot meals, help vets, and provide shelter for domestic violence survivors.
After the Thanksgiving weekend, the crew was back in high gear with volunteers popping open shopping bags and adding in pasta, beans, yogurt, vegetables, peanut butter, and some canned goods.
One of the first cars in the line up for a bag was Sharon Williamson who also does some volunteer driving for seniors. "I usually pick up a bag for myself and one for my sister," she said. "It is very helpful. I plan the rest of the week around what we get".
Walk-up residents could take one of the nearly 200 full bags of items or another combination.
"There's a need and there's alway plenty of help and there's always a lot of people who come. You can see how many people do, " said
Nearby a new veterans center, once a storage room, was stacked with grab-and-go food items, fresh fruit, ice cream, and veterans' information. There is also a room with supplies that may be necessary for someone who needs mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.
Gnekow said converting the area to serve the veterans was a team effort to reorganize, pain and plan.
"They can shop in here anytime they want we keep it stocked with food," she said.
Gerald Chase with the Cloverlane Foundation is a Korean War Veteran who is working in the center.
"We got this all done and we are going to do some wonderful things for the veterans."
He said there are also 2500 new specialized shoes ready to be distributed for veterans. They will be especially helpful for their mobility, and they do not require laces.
The Meals on Wheels program had about 400 to-go orders Tuesday, heading out to drivers, all of who were loading up for their routes in Buellton and surrounding communities up to Los Alamos.
"During the pandemic we found out that no one was serving them (Los Alamos) so we took them," said Gnekow.
For the Meals on Wheels program, Veteran Chef Stacy McNabb says they do about 400 meals a day during the week and it is vital. "Especially for our seniors and a lot of our homeless. If we didn't feed them they wouldn't get fed. It's important it's very, very important."
McNabb she mixes up the menu but there are many favorites requested.
"They like comfort food. Country fried steak Salisbury steak, meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy and they like desserts," she said. "It's a different menu every month and all of our stuff is from scratch."
The area has not always had the support or coordination that it has needed to deal with the growing and aging population in the valley. Until now.
Coming up in the future, the programs will move to the current library building and the library is moving up the street to a new site with room to expand there.
More seniors will then be able to come in person for a meal. Gnekow said, "they like to be with us and we like to see them so can't wait! We've got big plans for Buellton!"
The SYV Outreach food programs are mainly supported by the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Volunteers and funding can be contributed to the program at www.syvcommunityoutreach.org