Celebrating 100 Years of Unity Shoppe Impact
Unity Shoppe is a unique Santa Barbara based public benefit corporation dedicated to helping low-income families, the elderly and disabled. This local non-profit truly exemplifies bootstrap leadership. Led by a hands-on management team, it co-ordinates community giving with the support of over 20,000 volunteers, working year-round to assist 18,000 unduplicated referrals made by 300 non-profit agencies, churches, schools, hospitals and counseling centers throughout the Santa Barbara county. They offer people the use of any and all of the available programs that include a Grocery & Clothing Center; School Clothing & Supplies; Work, Learn & Earn Support; Long-Term Disaster Services; Job Smart Services; a Senior Resource Center; and Santa’s Toy Shoppe during the Holiday Season. Year-round over 60,000 visits are made during times of crisis. The work was started by Dr. Pearl Chase as a holiday service and was turned into year-round programs with the help of Kenny Loggings, Peter Noone, Jeff Bridges, Jelinda & Barry DeVorzon, KEYT, Santa Barbara News-Press, Larry Crandall, Richard Berti, Pierre Claeyssens, Annette & Harold Simmons, local foundations, and an army of community support.
Barbara Tellefson learned the basic principals of how to help low-income families from retired social service workers and has dedicated her time to honor the core principals that the early founders valued to help families avoid welfare services and homeless situations. Board Chair Dave Gonzales, Executive Director Tom Reed, Administrative Director Elvira Avina, Donor Relations Liaison Pat Hitchcock, Retail Sales Manager Christina Rodriguez, and Director of Operations and President Barbara Tellefson, all work together as the agency’s Management Team supported by a remarkable staff of 15.
How does the Unity Shoppe differ from other nonprofit organizations?
“Visitors and volunteers from all over the world are always speechless after a tour of the facility and everyone is amazed at the services offered. The work is unique and has not been duplicated anywhere to date. We have learned that the secret of giving is not just doing what we want to do but finding out what is needed by the people we serve. That helps them with their goal of achieving a better life for their families through their own efforts. We encourage everyone to work together so we can offer a wonderful “Central Distribution Facility” that can give more people better services. This helps us reduce duplication of services and provides much better and more consistent support to more people, saving the taxpayers’ money. Last year 72 percent of those referred were in the workplace and 18 percent were seniors. Everyone is qualified and we maintain a record of the services they receive. We make it possible for parents to remain the caretakers of their children, so they could retain their respect during difficult times by shopping for their needs with dignity. Most of these families send their children back to help other families in the “free store” and learn job skills and how to help their community. It is a community effort of staggering proportions and everyone involved is changed forever.”
What has been the primary factor in Unity Shoppe’s success?
“We believe that giving is not about making the giver feel good, it is doing something that is needed and wanted by the person we wish to help. The Unity Shoppe works to empower socioeconomically disadvantaged families. Our Founder, Dr. Pearl Chase, was a woman of means who came to Santa Barbara when she was very young. She was the first person to notice the poor who lived here and wanted to make their lives better. When she saw the poverty and how the underprivileged struggled to make ends meet, she took the first action to give low-income families and seniors a bit of hope. Others followed her example because she was a strong voice and wanted her community to live up to its potential. Because she noticed the invisible people among us, the Unity Shoppe exists today with the best services possible for thousands of people.”
Unity Shoppe currently aids thousands of community members. How is this possible?
“Helping the poor is very difficult. It is never easy to get the right food and clothing needed because people cannot relate to things that do not touch them personally. Many donors prefer giving to the arts, education, health and animals because these are the things that they can relate to and like. Because I came from a wealthy and educated family who lost everything including their professions, homes, country and even their lives, it was easy for me to understand the pain and hardship of mothers that did not always have enough to feed their children if an extra bill was added to the household budget. I felt a need to live a life that would honor my lost family, so after I married, I began to study what was available and how I might help my community and low-income mothers struggling without a support system. I found a group of elderly ladies washing dirty broken toys in cold-water buckets for the Council of Christmas Cheer on Haley Street. They were educated in Social Service work and retired but still wanted to help poor families. They always needed more toys for children during the holiday season so I decided to help them get enough toys for the 1,500 children on their list. A run-in with Kenny Loggins who was collecting Toys for the Marine Corp’s ‘Toys for Tots’ program changed our future. He was the first person to offer good advice on what was needed in order to make the agency more successful. His caring heart and shared vision and potential impact changed our course and showed us how to raise funds. The Unity Shoppe had existed with no paid staff and no funding for 69 years and needed funding to improve the services for the thousands of people that were being referred for services.
The success of Unity’s work was never due to any one person but rather a tribute to all those who took the time to help create loving and caring community services for the children and elderly in need throughout Santa Barbara County. Our work brought together the young and old, rich and poor and people from all races, creeds and color in a community effort to help our low-income neighbors. It has always been about poverty, struggle, action and hope so everyone could achieve the American dream.” – B. Tellerson
Join the Unity Shoppe for their 100th Anniversary Celebration on October 10th and their 31st Annual Unity Telethon occurring December 9th or call to schedule a tour of the facility!
Get involved and help spread the Unity Shoppe impact at unityshoppe.org