SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- A Good Samaritan Shelter permanent housing program is helping a Santa Maria family get back on its feet just in time for Thanksgiving.
During the holiday, they'll receive a Thanksgiving dinner courtesy of generous community donations received during the ongoing NewsChannel 12 Turkey Drive.
Gabriel Valencia and Danica Alley have been together for three years and have two children, an 18-month-old son and five-month-old daughter.
Both Valencia and Alley are Good Samaritan clients and came to the non-profit organization to help recovery from substance abuse.
Alley decided to come to the shelter after she lost custody of her son last year. She entered rehab in May 2020 and continued through September 2020.
This past June, soon after giving birth to her daughter in May, she was able to regain custody of her son.
"That meant everything to me because that's what I had been fighting for for the last year," said Alley. "We have a very close bond now. He's a great little boy. He's a lot of fun."
Valencia, a Navy veteran, arrived at Good Samaritan this past March, and spent 60 days going through its detox program.
"It brought me structure," said Valencia. "It brought me knowledge about me. It brought all my emotions and feelings back because before that, I didn't care about nothing. I just cared about my next fix."
In May, the couple moved into the Family Shelter, a multi-month program that allows families with children to work closely with a case manager to attain vlife skills so they may successfully transition into independent living.
"It was very stable, said Alley. "A lot of people complain about curfew and stuff, but it was nice to have that structure. They provided us with dinner every night and a safe place to take the kids, and shower them and bath them. They are very safe, as far as keeping the doors locked from the outside people, and so it was good for the kids."
While the Family Shelter provided them with a safe place to live, the couple yearned for a more private place of their own. Clients living at the shelter also have a limited amount of time there.
"I have two kids that I want to grow up better than I grew up and in a better stability house and it's what's right," said Valencia. "It's not about me no more. It's about the kids."
Within the past few days, Alley and Valencia began to move into Casa de Familia, an apartment complex for Good Samaritan clients located next door to the Family Shelter.
"It's our home, and it's also too very rewarding because it's the first time as a family unit we've ever had our own home," said Alley. "Even before we had the kids we never really had our own home. We were always kind of struggling from here, there and everywhere, so it's very, very rewarding."
Valencia added the apartment is probably his first permanent place to live in more than 15 years.
"It's like the world has been lifted off my shoulder," said Valencia. "I don't have to worry about where we're going to sleep or where we're going to go. To have my own place for me and my family, it's awesome. To be able to have the holidays, to be able to cook a turkey dinner, to be able to have a Christmas tree, to be able to have trick-or-treaters come to the door, and for my son to see, it's awesome. Bar none, it's tremendous."
Both Alley and Valencia are now clean and continuing their recovery from substance abuse.
"I have a year-and-a-half clean now, so doing very good," said Alley. "I've built amazing relationships and friendships with people that I'm not used to having, so that's really great. It's really rewarding."
The also add how grateful they are for the treatment they've received at Good Samaritan.
"I've heard of stories like this. I said, nah, that's not true, that's not true," said Valencia. "It is true. Miracles do happen. It's amazing. God bless everybody."
"It's been a life-changing experience," said Alley. "I definitely don't know if we would be where we're at in any aspects. I don't necessarily if I would have gotten my son back because I wouldn't have gotten stable housing. It's made definitely life-changing impacts on our lives."
Now, with a new home, they'll soon enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, where they'll be able to start a new tradition with their children.
"It means a lot," said Valencia. It's a blessing to be able to cook a turkey dinner for me and my family. I can't wait to pull out the camera and take pictures. It's a blessing and memories that we're going to cherish for the rest of our lives."
The Turkey Drive has been an important outreach campaign for NewsChannel 12 for more than 15 years.
While the pandemic continues, the community's adjustment to Covid-related health protocols will allow NewsChannel 12 to bring back in-person drop-off locations, including at its Santa Maria studios.
"So grateful and so excited," said Cahoon. "We've been partners with NewsChannel 12 for so long and without you guys the Turkey Drive wouldn't happen and it's been so much fun to always celebrate it at the studios with your team, so we're just really grateful that we're able to do this in person, and have all of our groups that drive through come by and see us."
The Turkey Drive has been an important outreach campaign for NewsChannel 12 for more than 15 years, assisting Good Samaritan clients in Santa Barbara County and SLO Food Bank clients in San Luis Obispo County.
An in-person turkey collection will take place Tuesday, Nov. 16 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Dropoff locations will be held at NewsChannel 12 studios at 1211 W. McCoy Lane in Santa Maria and at Grocery Outlet Bargain Market in Lompoc.
SLO Food Bank will hold a location at California Fresh Market in Pismo Beach, at its company headquarters in San Luis Obispo, as well as a still to be determined site in North San Luis Obispo County.
In addition to the drop-off event, an online campaign is now up-and-running on nc12hometeam.com.
People who wish to contribute may select either SLO Food Bank or Good Samaritan and choose a monetary amount of their desire.
For more information on the NewsChannel 12 Turkey Drive, click here.