SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A Santa Barbara non-profit known for helping those in need, year-round, is now in dire need of the community's help. On Monday, Unity Shoppe cut back on its full-time family services and laid off 17 employees for the next six weeks.
"Where are the people going to go? Who's going to take care of them?" asked Barbara Tellefson, Director of Operations for the Unity Shoppe.
Tellfson, who founded the Unity Shoppe more than 40 years ago following its inception by Pearl Chase in 1917, said she spent the past three months covering staff paychecks when the money ran out.
"I've tried to hold this together in the hopes that we could find people to help."
Monday's announcement marked a somber first in the non-profit's 103 year history in Santa Barbara, in terms of layoffs and a cut-back in services to the community.
Tellefson and Executive Director, Tom Reed, link a critical financial shortage to the Unity Shoppe's long term disaster support dating back to the 1990 Painted Cave fire, last year's back-to-back disasters, and a loss of crucial funding in recent years.
"All of our Christmas donations went to disaster services, so we were shorted about $500,000," Tellefson said. "We've had 1,550 visits by disaster victims over the past 10 months, and we could not get enough funding from anyone to cover those expenses."
"Those funds carry us through, traditionally, the first six months, nine months of the year while we're writing grants and doing everything we know to do," Reed said. "It's not fun. No one wants to do this, and we're letting the community know that this is a crisis."
The non-profit's programs that provide food, clothing and services for low-income residents, single parents, seniors and students will be impacted. An estimated 20,000 people are helped each year when they walk through the doors at the unity shoppe; Tellefson expands that number to include almost 60,000 visits, annually.
"Who does that?" she asked.
Tellefson made it clear that the Unity Shoppe does not turn people away, even those who travel to Santa Barbara from other areas.
The Santa Barbara non-profit even served as a model for The Store in Nashville, TN, thanks to local resident and country star Brad Paisley and his actress wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who often volunteer with their children.
Tellefson, Reed and, Pat Hitchcock, who handles Donor Relations, are helping in all areas of the shop, along with several employees, to help fill the gap, serving a limited number of diabetic residents and others with emergency needs.
"Our intent is to open again for the busy holiday season," Hitchcock said. "We will have anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 families, low income families and low income seniors that'll be referred to us."
KEYT has partnered with the Unity Shoppe for years to carry its Christmas telethon.
In the meantime, the shop that's helped the community for decades is turning to the community, once again, for help; this time, with a stronger sense of urgency.
"If everyone in the city would send me $20 dollars we could do it," Tellefson said.
To make a donation or for more information, click the following link: http://www.unityshoppe.org/