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Funding for New Building at the Top of Unity Shoppe’s Holiday Wish List

The nonprofit, which serves those in need of food, clothing and other basics, could use a hand itself in raising $2.4 million for its new space on Sola Street

Santa Barbara’s Unity Shoppe is working hard to stock its shelves for the holiday season and raise enough money to move into its new building at 110 W. Sola St.

After losing its space in Victoria Hall, the nonprofit plans to move all of its operations under one roof. A $500,000 donation by Annette and Harold Simmons paid the down payment on the building, but the Unity Shoppe has to raise the rest — $2.4 million — for the balance and renovation costs.

Some of the building is being leased to Magellan’s Travel Supplies to pay the mortgage right now, according to operations manager Barbara Tellefson.

“If not for the Simmonses, I don’t know — we probably would have closed down,” she said.

The annual telethon, which brings in 10 percent of the nonprofit’s contributions, is scheduled for 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13. It’ll be hosted by Kenny Loggins, Jeff Bridges, Jelinda DeVorzon and Anne Smith Towbes in the hall of the new building, as it was last year.

“I love the Sola building,” Tellefson said. “It’s our answer, it’s our future.”

She has been with the Unity Shoppe for decades, and has seen the nonprofit move from Haley Street to Chapala Street and State Street, and now, to Sola Street. She said she can’t wait to start remodeling and wants to have it finished by the time she is 80 — but that’s only three years away.

The large stage room, farthest from the Chapala Street entrance, can be rented out for extra income when it’s not being used for Unity Shoppe events, according to Tellefson, and the space may even be donated to other local charities.

Barbara Tellefson, the Unity Shoppe's director of operations, at the Senior Center in the basement of the nonprofit's old building. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)
Barbara Tellefson, the Unity Shoppe’s director of operations, at the Senior Center in the basement of the nonprofit’s old building. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

“Having a community center like this, for events and disasters, was always a dream,” she said.

Various agencies and nonprofit programs in Santa Barbara County referred more than 23,000 people to the Unity Shoppe last year alone.

The Unity Shoppe has its “Free Store” behind the State Street Gift Shoppe, where families can pick out groceries, school supplies, clothing and baby items. The nonprofit also hosts senior services, JobSmart with training and clothing for interviews, and disaster services.

“We’re not inviting them to be dependent — the average number of visits for a household is 6.8 times,” Executive Director Tom Reed said.

The Unity Shoppe’s methods are different than most nonprofits; clients choose their own things from a store, instead of being handed a box of food or clothing.

The “Free Store” will feature Santa Claus for kids to sit with as parents shop, and a back area is being transformed into a toy shop. Reed said local seniors and adult education students are making wooden toys and knitting sweaters to add to the donations.

“We need to get through Christmas Eve, when 3,500 families get $150 worth of food and about $400 worth of clothing and toys, which is $1.3 million,” Tellefson said.

In a few weeks, more than 5,000 gift boxes will be sent out to local seniors who ask for things such as slippers, toiletries and clothing items.

“Seventy percent of the people I serve are in the workplace, out of homelessness and welfare, so it saves the community millions,” Tellefson said, adding that by providing help with food and clothing, people can spend their money on rent and other family needs.

Hundreds of volunteers, including students and employees from local businesses, are hard at work this week helping families put together Thanksgiving dinners. Volunteers help out year-round at the “Free Store” and other services, especially in the holiday season when the Unity Shoppe serves up to 200 families per day, according to Tellefson.

“This is a community effort like I’ve never seen before,” she said.

Click here to donate goods or money to the Unity Shoppe.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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