The Help Center’s annual Angel Trees are offering suggestions for Christmas gifts for local children. The trees can be found at Fairway Market, Higher Grounds and Bake Shop and Brew. Here with tree are (front row, from left) Gaige Schnalzer, Tayr White, Kenli Schnalzer, Brynnley Meyer and Caden Meyer. In the middle is Zane Booth. In back, front left, are Colleen Meyer, executive director of the Help Center, Paul White, co-owner of the Bake Shop and Brew, Katie White, co-owner Bake Shop and Brew, Peyton Manchee and Tegan White.
Photo by JP Crumrine

The holiday seasons are approaching. The Idyllwild Help Center is a vital contributor to hundreds of local residents because the Help Center’s gifts are not limited to the precious holidays.

With the approaching Christmas holiday, the Help Center has erected its annual Angel Tree in three locations — Idyllwild Bake Shop and Brew, Fairway Market and Higher Grounds. The tags can be removed and gifts for local children bought and brought to the Help Center for distribution next month.

But this year, the Help Center needs more than children’s presents or the obvious cash. Its food pantry is very lean, said Colleen Meyer, the center’s executive director.

“We’re lagging this year,” Meyer said, describing the pantry’s status. “It may have been our message. Part of our challenge is telling people what we need.”

Food, high protein, nonperishable and easy to cook, is the need. The number of clients has nearly quadrupled from the 150 in 2007. Last year, the Help Center distributed more than 2,000 food bags. Meals are needed every month, not just from Thanksgiving to New Years.

“We’re really seeing more young families with children,” she added. Besides canned goods and dry products, the center provides food vouchers for clients. These can be used at either Fairway or Village markets.

Some, such as the Associates of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, are aware of this need. It has begun a food drive on the Idyllwild Arts campus. It plans to deliver the donations before the Fall Break on Nov. 17.

Then, when students return to campus after the break, it plans a second delivery on Dec. 15.

But food is only one survival service the Help Center provides. As winter approaches and temperatures drop, clients can get firewood. The wood is the product of fire abatement by the Woodies of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council.

Families often need winter jackets or snow boots for the children.

“We also are seeing an increase in seniors with healthcare problems, such as surgery or worker’s compensation injuries,” Meyer said. “Nearly two-thirds of the senior disabled clients are alone and have limited incomes. We’re seeing a huge need for medical assistance.”

The Help Center not only organizes the annual Health Fair, which was last weekend at Fern Creek Medical Center, but provides vouchers for medical care or even money to purchase gas in order to get to an appointment, such as cancer therapy.

“Idyllwild is special. Here you feel it is truly neighbor helping neighbor,” Meyer said proudly.

Then she quoted the center’s Client Services Administrator Skye Zambrana: “When someone first needs the Help Center it may feel like the worst day of their life; but it’s also the first day it starts to get better.”

The Help Center phone number is 951-659-2110. Donations may be made online by visiting their website at