For more than 100 years and in three incarnations, the Unity Shoppe has been providing free food, clothing, and gifts to the poorest of Santa Barbara’s poor, but now, Executive Director Tom Reed says Santa Barbara’s one-stop private charity shop has been forced to pull the plug on operations for at least two months unless there’s a sudden infusion of cash donations.
Unity Shoppe is currently $500,000 “upside down and under water,” Reed said, blaming the Thomas Fire and Debris Flow almost two years ago for the critical shortfall in grants and donations. Those disasters, Reed said, created a massive increase in new customers. In addition, he said, they left Santa Barbara’s large multitude of nonprofits all scrambling for funds as donations and grantsf plummeted by nearly 30 percent. For a $1.7 million a operation like the Unity Shoppe’s, he said, there’s not much cushion. Reed expressed the most anguish about having to lay off 15 of the Unity Shoppe’s 18 workers, most of whom, he said, have been on the job more than 20 years.
Reed estimated the Unity Shoppe provides help to 22,000 people a year; that’s free presents at Christmas time — some homemade wooden trucks and hand knitted baby sweaters — free new school clothes and free food. Unlike many food pantries that distribute free food, the Unity Shoppe is open every day, all day. Most others are open once a week or once a month and only for a few hours. Reed estimates 1,000 families a month are served in Unity Shoppe’s food pantries, which are designed to mimic the actual shopping experience as much as possible.
To take up some of the slack created by Unity Shoppe’s closure, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has opened emergency food pantries at Catholic Charities on Haley Street — open daily between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 pm. — and at the Westside Neighborhood Center, which will be open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 12:30 and 2 p.m.
Reed is seeking donations from the community to get the shop back open. He vowed it will open in November in time for the Christmas season — when the charity holds its annual holiday sale and televised fundraising marathon, courtesy of KEYT and Kenny Loggins.