Tom Reed Announces Retirement Unity Shoppe


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July 11, 2022, Santa Barbara, Calif. – Tom Reed, the public face of Unity Shoppe for 20 years, is stepping down at the end of 2022. Speaking at every opportunity about the many programs Unity Shoppe offers to help those in need — an average of 18,000 clients annually, referred by more than 300 social service agencies around Santa Barbara County, — Tom said, “It’s time for someone else to lead this amazing, unique, 105-year-old local charity; and it’s time for me to enjoy some new adventures with my wife and grandchildren.” 

Founded in 1917 as the Council of Christmas Cheer by Pearl Chase, Tom Reed signed on in 2002 to help Barbara Tellefson grow the organization into a sustainable year-round charity, providing not only food, clothing and toys, but also job training, school supplies, disaster relief, and special gifts for seniors.

“Unity Shoppe is about helping anyone who is truly in need,” Mr. Reed said, “anyone who has fallen on hard times. We pride ourselves in helping people get over a challenging hurdle in their lives and get back on their feet.”

Known to everyone who knows him as simply “Tom,” his legacy includes volunteering his time and real estate expertise in 2002 to assist in the purchase of Unity Shoppe’s former building at 1219 State Street, helping Barbara Tellefson raise $2 million in 30 days with the help of a matching gift from local philanthropist Pierre Claeyssens.  Then hired as Development Director, Tom was appointed by the Board as Executive Director in 2004.

Later he was instrumental in helping to acquire the space at 1209 State Street for today’s Gift & Thrift Shoppe and Senior Resource Center, plus Unity Shoppe’s Job Smart Program and Furniture Annex next door, at 1207 State Street, where donated furniture is sold and professional attire is provided at no cost to qualifying individuals seeking employment.

The free grocery store in the Family Services Facility at 1401 Chapala Street often meets the initial need of those facing financial difficulties.  Clients are also invited into what Unity Shoppe now calls its Old West General Store where clothing, household goods and basic necessities are made availableNew school clothing and supplies are in the same location, but attractively presented in their Little Red School House; and the Toy Shoppe is an absolute favorite for thousands of qualifying families for birthdays and during the holidays. At Check-Out, bar codes on every item are scanned, as they would be at any retail store, but clients’ children never see that no money is changing hands.

Tom served as a pilot in the Air Force during Vietnam before relocating to the west coast. “I understood ‘need’ when I discovered Unity Shoppe,” Tom explained. “Emotional, mental and physical need, having lost two homes myself in Northern California – one to fire and another in an avalanche-induced mudslide that also took the life of a close friend. And I was impressed with the agency’s philosophy – that every family and individual be allowed to “choose” what they received. After all of my own losses, I found myself searching for a new purpose in life, and some spiritual meaning. Discovering Unity Shoppe and seeing the unique manner in which the less fortunate are served with true dignity, not just charity, was the inspiration I was seeking. It gave me new direction. It’s funny how helping others so often results in finding our own needs met. I’ve always been struck by the number of people who have shared similar discoveries.”

Tom, understandably, especially identifies with Unity Shoppe’s Long-Term Disaster Recovery Program. He co-founded Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) for Santa Barbara County in 2008, during the Tea and Jesusita Fires.

“And now Unity Shoppe will soon have a new Executive Director with fresh ideas,” Tom said. “But not before I acknowledge here and thank the more than 1,700 volunteers who help annually with food distribution; many of them are high school students who receive credit toward Community Service Hours. And not before I personally thank all of the local businesses who have donated and participated with Unity Shoppe over the years in Team Building projects; the senior women who knit, sew, crochet and assemble personalized Gift Boxes requested by over 100 care-giving agencies; and the men who build hundreds of wooden toys. 

“It is very gratifying to know that Unity’s incredible staff are in a strong position to continue these vital programs. Past challenges have strengthened this organization, and I am proud to depart with the charity in a stable place, hopefully for another 100 years! I hope you’ll join me at my last public event for Unity Shoppe — the Annual Unity Holiday Celebration — to be broadcast on KEYT in mid-December, to support how Santa Barbara takes care of its own.”

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