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Unity Shoppe helping clients on a critical need basis

A handful of high-risk clients are receiving help at Santa Barbara’s Unity Shoppe, despite cutbacks, layoffs and a two-month-long closure of the Chapala St. facility where the non-profit’s Family Services program is housed.

“The referred diabetic clients are coming through, we’re having them in two afternoons a week,” said Pat Hitchcock, who heads up Donor Relations for the Unity Shoppe. “For emergency services, they are making contact with a staff member, and then we are bringing them in as needed, or we or delivering to them, the groceries that they need.”

Other emergency-need clients include an elderly blind woman and people with mobility issues.

Hitchcock and Barbara Tellefson, Unity Shoppe’s Director of Operations, said that the town’s back-to-back disasters, long-term disaster relief program, and donation fatigue throughout the community have collectively taken a huge financial toll on the decades-old non-profit.

The temporary closure, through mid-November, was announced last week.

A red, wire drum near the Shoppe’s entrance off Sola St. now holds letters, notes, and donations that are trickling in to the non-profit, many in the amount of $20 dollars.

Tellefson read portions of the notes out loud; one more sizable donation came from key longtime supporter and community philanthropist, Anne Smith-Towbes.

“I know what a heartbreaking decision it must have been to temporarily close …. thank you for explaining about the hardship the staff is undergoing …. hang in there and give my love and encouragement to all,” Smith-Towbes wrote.

Another woman, whose name was not revealed, reached out to the non-profit after hearing the news last week.

“My children and I were recipients of your kindness 25 years ago, we had some financial difficulties at the time. My two children, ages 11 and 12 back then, met you and you made them feel so comfortable in receiving winter jackets. Your empathy and kindness was a valuable lesson of life for them. I hope this small amount will help.”

The Unity Shoppe provides food and clothing to tens of thousands of local residents each year. Concerns are mounting for both the Shoppe’s clients and employees.

“I’m really worried about them,” Tellefson said. “They’re worried, you know, it’s the first of the month and they have to pay their rent. It’s kind of tough for everybody.”

The plan is to re-open November 11 for the holidays, when Tellefson and Hitchcock anticipate helping some 4,000 clients.

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