The weekly Friday food giveaway next to Portable 21 at the Alyce Norman Elementary School, 1200 Anna Street
From the News-Ledger June 1, 2011
By Steve Marschke News-Ledger Editor
If you live in West Sacramento and you need a
little help of some kind, this is a pretty good place to start.
We’re talking about “portable building number
21” at the back of the campus at Alyce Norman Elementary School, 1200 Anna
Street. That’s where the Yolo County Children’s Alliance has set up its West
Sacramento field headquarters. The group uses paid staff, volunteers and
various community partners to dish out a bunch of services and referrals. The
offerings range from free food, to parenting classes, to tax preparation, and
to low-cost health insurance referrals.
The array of services is so diverse even
Katie Villegas, executive director of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance,
admits it can get confusing.
“We can sign people up for any help they need
– if they walk into our office, we can get them set up,” she said. “Since 2006,
we’ve done enrollment for health insurance programs. Now, we’re doing health
insurance plus 16 other programs.”
Lydia Carrillo, representing the Health Education Council, passes out samples of granola during the Friday food giveaway
Signing families up for free or low-cost
children’s health care has been a big priority for the Alliance. Other programs
provide help to mothers, infants and pregnant moms, or help subsidize utility
bills for low-income people, or help people get food stamps.
“West Sacramento has a lot of people who
qualify for food stamps but don’t know it,” said Villegas. “We fill out the
application and walk it over to the (Yolo County) Department of Social
Services, and they waive the normal face-to-face interview. That cuts the wait
time from 45 days to five days.”
Help is available in English, as well as
Spanish and (sometimes) Russian.
When the News-Ledger paid a visit to the site
a month ago, volunteers were helping to unload produce outside for free
distribution, thanks to a special arrangement with the Yolo County Food Bank.
“That’s about 2,300 pounds of food,” said
Villegas. “This happens every Friday, rain or shine – but if the school is
closed, like at Christmas, then we’re closed. We use volunteers, especially for
the food distribution every Friday – a lot of the clients will actually jump in
and volunteer to help. About 150 families get ten pounds of fresh fruits and
The Alliance has also started an annual
“Community Giveaway Day,” inviting community members to donate clothes,
household goods and whatever other still-useful items they may have. The goods
are then passed out free to those in need.
“That happens the Saturday before
Thanksgiving,” said Villegas. “We take donations all year around. Especially
blankets, clothes and shoes – they go really fast. People can drop off things
Monday through Friday, from 8 to 5.”
Staffers Miguel Perez, Claudia Gonzalez, Katie Villegas (the executive director) and Sandra Maldonado at their Yolo County Children's Alliance site in West Sacramento
Newer this year is a program designed to help
low-income people fill out their tax returns – and hopefully, get back a refund
by claiming an earned income tax credit.
“Families making below $50,000 can get free
tax help,” Villegas stated. “All our volunteers are trained by the I.R.S. This
year, we helped 90 families, and they got around $200,000 in tax refunds. It
was a huge success. The average refund per family is about $1,300. Those
refunds went right into the local economy. A local stimulus package!”
Next door to the Alliance’s office is a
“mommy-baby clothes closet,” created with help from the local Soroptimist
“We have strollers, clothes and baby items”
for new parents, Villegas said. Also offered are child abuse prevention
programs, helping to educate expectant parents.
Nearby in the portable building is an office
of the Yolo Family Services Agency.
“They opened a counseling office next to the
clothes closet. It’s a huge deal that they are here, providing all kinds of
services. They offer one-on-one mental health counseling and crisis
intervention, and there is nothing else like it in West Sacramento.”
The counseling services are covered by
insurance programs including MediCal, and are also available on a sliding fee
Villegas is also excited about an independent
– and cheap – source of groceries that’s available to anyone, at www.thetreasurebox.org. She’s promoting it
to anyone who needs help making ends meet.
“Basically, you pay $32 for a box of food
that could feed a family lunch or dinner for a week, or a single person for a
month – it’s $100 worth of food for $32. It includes anything from chicken and
cereal to pies. Anybody can take advantage of it – people buy it for their
kids, college kids use it, people give it as gifts. You sign up before the 15th
of the month using a debit or credit card or food stamps. You pick it up on a
She’s also passionate about her agency’s role
in finding homes for local foster children.
“There were a ton of foster kids coming from
West Sacramento, and no parents to take them,” recalled Villegas. “That has
changed. A lot of people from Davis and Esparto and so forth stepped up to help
keep kids local. It’s really important to keep kids local, close to their
environment. It also costs four times more to place a kid out of town.”
'Cubbies' full of organized clothing at the "Mommy-Baby Clothes Closet" on the Alyce Norman school site in West Sacramento's Elkhorn Village area.
The Yolo County Children’s Alliance is a
county-chartered group with 17 board members. Funding comes “a little bit here
and a little bit there,” said Villegas. Some of it comes from the “First 5
Yolo” organization – the local branch of a statewide program that uses tobacco
taxes for services that benefit children under age five.
“First 5, Yolo County and Kaiser are our top
Private partners include the Grocery Outlet’s
“Eric and Shannon Flick are constant partners
with us – we just had our (fundraising) ‘fun run,’ and they provided all the
water and veggies.”
State budget cuts and other financial
troubles are putting a dent in the Alliance’s resources, but the group will
weather the storm, said Villegas.
“We’re going to lose some employees – one is
going off to medical school, and another to graduate school, so we’ll cut staff
through attrition. The work is not going away. We’re seeing a huge increase in
families in need, and we have to do more with less. This next six to 12 months,
we’ll have to be particularly creative.”
Soon, the group hopes to open a new thrift
store to raise some money – outfitting it with donated labor from the Northern
California Construction Training school.
If Villegas’s name sounds familiar, it may be
because she’s married to West Sacramento city council member Oscar Villegas.
Their family lives in Southport.
The “take-home message” from Katie Villegas?
It’s that if there’s something you need help
with, the Alliance is a pretty good place to start looking. Look for the Yolo
County Children’s Alliance on Facebook, visit www.yolokids.org, or call (916) 572-0560.
The agency can also use donated goods and volunteers.