On December 10th, a venerable Santa Barbara institution, Unity Shoppe, held its 30th annual star-studded Telethon to support its year-round provision of food, clothing, and other items and services to low-income members of the community.
Held at its Sola Street facility, the Telethon was broadcast live on KEYT and featured live performances and interviews as well as video clips from its 100th Anniversary Party held in September at the Granada Theatre. Turning out to show their support were many business leaders, community leaders and philanthropists, including Anne and Michael Towbes, Jelinda and Barry De Vorzon, Janet Garufis, Kenny Kahn, and David Borgatello. Live performances included American Idol star Gabriela Sepúlveda, songwriter Bridget Benenate, and the Pacific Sound Chorus. There were video clips from the Granada of Kenny Loggins, who in 1987 persuaded KEYT to broadcast the first Telethon, and who has participated in every Telethon since. Loggins shared his passion for Unity and performed alone and with Jim Messina. Other clips included the Beach Boys’ Bruce Johnston, Lois Mahalia, “Singing Cop” Dave Gonzales, and Barry De Vorzon.
Some of the volunteers staffing the phone banks have participated since the first Telethon, others traveled across the country to help out. While the support for Unity Shoppe runs deep and wide, so does the need for its services. So far this year, Unity has served nearly 20,000 people, with another 2,000 expected through the end of the year.
Year-round, Unity provides food, clothing, household items and school supplies to individuals referred from 300 agencies. By providing a central distribution facility, Unity eliminates duplication of services. Parents and children shop in a pleasant environment, rather than receiving a handout of pre-selected items. This allows clients to get what they need while maintaining their dignity, and the system avoids waste.
For the holidays, Unity provides a well-stocked cheerful store for parents and children to select toys, games, and books. For each child, a parent may select two toys, a board game, a stocking-stuffer item, an educational item (usually a book), and an item of winter clothing. Most toys are donated by Toys for Tots and other toy runs, the remainder are purchased at 10 percent of retail cost. The toy runs tend to bring in items for younger children, leaving Unity with a need for items for teenagers. All holiday items are new; the clothing and household and school supplies provided the rest of the year are a mix of new and gently-used items.
Each year, more than $2 million in food and merchandise is distributed. Unity operates with a lean staff of 17 and nearly 1,800 volunteers.
About 200 female volunteers, many who meet regularly in a group, knit afghans, lap robes, baby blankets, children’s clothes and doll clothes. About 25 men, many in their 80s and some in their 90s, make wooden toys, jewelry boxes and doll beds through a class at Santa Barbara City College’s Center for Lifelong Learning. Another group of men at Valle Verde retirement community also make wooden toys. These are just a few of the ways dedicated community members pitch in to assist this worthy organization.
Unity’s Job Smart Program provides resume assistance, training through its volunteer program, and work clothing. The job training program for years has been providing “on the job” training for high school volunteers in a range of positions at Unity. This training is especially valuable for those students who are not interested in or able to attend college. Recently, Unity began training special needs individuals as well. Referred by six agencies, these individuals gain job skills and confidence.
Unity also has a Disaster Services Program that provides a multitude of needed items to disaster victims.
Unity’s core demographic is the working poor and seniors, though it provides assistance to the homeless in transition, such as those at Transition House and those in the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s treatment program.
Unity recently had to relocate, which necessitated a $1.8 million mortgage. While the outpouring of community support is a strong testament to the worthiness of Unity, the mortgage payments and the ongoing demand from clients referred from 300 agencies means there is always a significant need for donations.
For more information about Unity Shoppe, go to unityshoppe.org.
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