Unity Shoppe, Inc. has announced that Barbara Tellefson, its founder, president and director of operations, lost her battle with a terminal illness and passed away on Sunday, Nov. 22. She was 84.
Tellefson, long known for her determination and passion, worked year-round alongside a dedicated staff — and thousands of community volunteers — to help struggling local families put food on the table and clothes on their backs, prepare for employment, and find joy over the holidays.
For over a century, thousands of supporters have shared their time, resources and volunteer efforts with Unity Shoppe in ways large and small, including longtime Unity devotee and performer Kenny Loggins.
“I don’t have adequate words to capture the gratitude and admiration I feel for Barbara and her unwavering dedication to Unity Shoppe,” Loggins said. “Over many decades, her grit, tenacity and heart inspired me, her staff and other volunteers.
“I will miss her immensely, but am gratified to have played a part in the growth of this peaceful haven of support for nearly one million Santa Barbarans over the years.”
“There will never be another Barbara Tellefson in our town,” said Jelinda Devorzon, 35-year advocate and Santa Barbara’s 2019 Woman of the Year. “She was a force of nature, but not one that ever sought the spotlight.
“Instead, she poured all of her energies into working behind the scenes, enabling Unity Shoppe to grow and develop a physical footprint where our community’s low-income families, seniors, the disabled, and disaster victims could receive a broad range of services when experiencing a crisis event,”
In the days since the onset of COVID-19, Tellefson had been doing all she could to foster the stability of Santa Barbarans, especially after 25,000 hourly wage residents lost their jobs and were desperate for groceries to stave off hunger.
She mandated an organizational streamline singularly focused on meeting the overwhelming need for free nutritious groceries in a safe manner, and today, because of Tellefson’s vision, Unity Shoppe is prepared to safely feed thousands more residents throughout 2021.
“The legacy left by Barbara has been enormous,” said Tom Reed, Unity Shoppe’s executive director. “Unity Shoppe’s Board of Directors, management team and staff intend to keep the doors of Unity Shoppe wide open and its services free of charge to Santa Barbara residents in need for years to come, which was her final wish.”
According to Pat Hitchcock, director of donor relations, Tellefson understood there will always be people impacted by temporary crises and in need of help.
“Particularly in the last year, she was intent on making sure Unity Shoppe would be able to sustain its current and future operation of critical programs in a stable and debt-free manner,” Hitchcock said.
Unity Shoppe, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3), is currently in need of $5.5 million to complete the establishment of its physical footprint. Before her passing, Tellefson made a final pledge of the first $500,000 toward this goal.
Community residents interested in honoring Tellefson’s pledge to help sustain Unity Shoppe’s physical footprint and range of support programs into the future can make a donation at www.unityshoppe.org, or contact Hitchcock at 805-979-9511.
Unity Shoppe serves upwards of 20,000 people annually, who are referred by some 300 nonprofits. In a non-COVID year, between 1,700 and 2,000 local volunteers work
alongside the Unity staff, including hundreds of seniors. Together they help operate Unity’s programs out of two locations:
● At 1401 Chapala St., Unity runs the Grocery and Clothing Distribution Center that is relied upon by thousands annually to help them make ends meet and avoid homelessness and welfare dependence; as well as the seasonal shoppes, including the back-to-school clothes and supplies shoppe in the fall as well as Unity’s Santa’s Toy Shoppe in December.
The Chapala Street address is also the site of the Work, Learn & Earn volunteer training program for young adults and the disabled that functions year round, giving youth an opportunity to help their community, earn community service credit for high school, as well as entry-level job skills.
● At 1207-09 State St., Unity runs several programs, including Job Smart for low-income adults in need of interview clothes and employment support; and the senior
volunteerism program, where volunteers work year round offering their handiwork, as well as assembling and delivering essential care packages to other homebound seniors and the disabled. The space also houses the long-term disaster relief program that responds to natural disasters when they occur.