It Takes a Village to Help Our Community
In the early 1900s, Dr. Pearl Chase was a transformational figure in the beautification of Santa Barbara, founding the Community Arts Association, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Indian Defense Association. But Chase was also appalled by the wealth disparity of her hometown. In 1916, she brought together community volunteers to give presents to low-income children and seniors during the holidays. What began as an annual gift drive known as The Council of Christmas Cheer would evolve into Santa Barbara’s largest direct distributor of food, clothing, and basic necessities: Unity Shoppe.
Dr. Chase passed away in 1979, but her greatest legacy was the influence she had on her successors who carried on the torch of caring for Santa Barbara’s disadvantaged.
Barbara Tellefson, who succeeded Chase and led the organization for more than 50 years, said it best: “When we strive to improve the economic situation or sense of hopelessness experienced by our neighbors, we must never forget to show them respect and elevate their dignity at every turn.”
Renamed, transformed, and expanded under Tellefson’s direction, today Unity Shoppe is counted on by more than 300 nonprofit agencies, schools, hospitals, counseling centers, and religious institutions. Supported by over 1,700 volunteers annually, volunteers have helped Unity expand its reach through many different programs and have led it to become one of the community’s largest distributors of handmade toys to low-income families.
In fact, Santa Barbara woodworker Steve Scheftic has led a team of retirees who together have created over 25,000 wooden toys for Unity to give away. Thirty years later, he can’t think of anything more gratifying. “I think it was the tennis player Arthur Ashe who said, ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,’” Scheftic says. “The end result is more than the sum of the parts that make up a wooden doll bed or toy truck. It’s that you used your own hands to make the world a better place, one kid at a time.”
Executive Director: Angela Miller-Bevan
Unity Shoppe is dedicated to providing residents impacted by temporary conditions of poverty, natural disaster or health crisis with resources, including groceries, clothing, and other essentials, that reinforce human dignity and encourage self-sufficiency and independence.
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I Never Thought This Would Happen to Me
I was first introduced to Unity Shoppe when my son was volunteering for community service hours. We volunteered and worked side-by-side and saw first-hand the clients shopping with dignity by choosing items that they needed and then we watched as it appeared that they checked out at the register just like they would do in any other store but at Unity Shoppe, no payment changes hands. One of my favorite programs is Unity’s Seniors Helping Seniors Center. This program provides basic need requests from hospitals, senior centers, and other organizations helping seniors who are homebound or disabled. It’s no wonder why I love Unity’s slogan: DIGNITY. RESPECT. CHOICE.
Taking the Legacy Countywide
Unity Shoppe is counting on the durable success of its annual telethon to continue investing in its programs and services. This includes JobSmart, which supplies low-income people with work clothes, and the Senior Resource Center, in which long-time senior volunteers knit, sew, quilt, paint, woodwork, and assemble clothes and toys to the delight and comfort of Santa Barbara’s vulnerable residents. In 2023, Unity Shoppe also plans to begin serving families in north Santa Barbara County. It’s a move inspired in part by Brad Paisley, who was so taken by Unity Shoppe that he brought the concept to his adopted home in Nashville. “Until now, people from north county have had to travel down to get our services,” says Executive Director Angela Miller-Bevan. “In 2023, we will go to them.”
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