Friday, December 14, 2007

Unity Telethon scheduled for today


Few institutions rely on a nine-hour period once each year to drum up one-third of their annual operating budget.
But the Unity Shoppe does and is set to do just that today when the 21st annual Unity Telethon kicks off from the Victoria Hall Theater at 2 p.m.

“We’re hoping against hope that we can get a little boost and get a little ahead of the game here,” said Tom Reed, executive director of Unity Shoppe. “We’re under funded and under staffed and it’s a struggle to raise money even though this is a very pure cause and a good work.”
While Unity Shoppe is one of the longest standing charities of its kind in Santa Barbara County, few things show the magnitude of what its services mean than the number of households and people it helps keep fed, clothed and healthy.
In 2006, Reed said 6,000 households, or about 14,865 individuals utilized Unity Shoppe’s services, which totaled nearly 70,000 client visits.
Reed said these 6,000 households, half of which consist of single-parent families, are referred to Unity Shoppe by roughly 260 agencies and organizations throughout the county.
For example, Reed said if a teacher sees that a child is having difficulty concentrating in class due to lack of proper nutrition, they could refer the family to Unity Shoppe.
For the majority of these families, Reed said the devastating reality of becoming homeless is always looming and the services Unity Shoppe provides helps ensure this doesn’t happen.
“Many people are 90 days away from financial crisis,” Reed said. “We don’t turn anyone away if they’re in need.”
Tucked into a building on the 1200 block of State St., Reed said few realize the colossal amount of charity work that’s done at what he calls “Unityville,” where families can shop with a cart like they do at any other store, have fun and maintain their dignity.
Reed said Unityville, a village of sorts within the larger building, was constructed shortly after Unity Shoppe bought the building in 2002. It consists of a large pirate ship at the entrance, where kids can play while parents provide the proper documentation to qualify for its services.
Once inside the market area, Reed said shoppers are greeted by the village-like-scene, where there is a schoolhouse, Bank of Unity and train depot, which he said makes the experience more realistic and enjoyable.
One of the main attributes Reed said separates Unity Shoppe from other welfare services, is that parents shop with a shopping cart rather than being handed a box of groceries by a stranger and sent on their way.
“It’s different than kids watching somebody they don’t know hand something to their parents,” Reed said. “Parents are kind of embarrassed in that process and cut down in the eyes of their kids.”
Reed said the freedom of being able to purchase what one wants and needs reduces waste as well.
He said studies have shown that 70 percent of the pre-selected groceries that are handed to needy families in a box or bag go to waste. By letting clients shop for the groceries they want, he said the likelihood that it gets used is greatly increased as a result.
During last year’s Unity Telethon, Reed said $644,000 was raised and the highest amount ever came in 2001 when $752,000 was donated.
But this year will present some challenges.
For the first time in its 21-year life, the telethon won’t be broadcast on Keyt channel 3. Instead, it will appear on Cox Communications channel 8, which will limit it to Cox cable subscribers. Reed said the telethon will be broadcast in Spanish on Cox channel 78 and in High Definition on channel 708. The program will also be broadcast at
Aside from the change in broadcasting, Reed said the recent economic slump might also play a role in how many donations are generated.
One thing that will remain the same however, is the contingency of celebrity talent that has consistently provided support to the telethon.
Reed said the musician Kenny Loggins, who performed during the first telethon, will do so tonight from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. He said Jeff Bridges, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Rob Lowe will all likely make appearances and help host the show, which concludes at 11 p.m.
While Reed hopes many local residents will donate monetarily to Unity Shoppe, he said anyone is welcome to call and arrange a time to volunteer at Unityville.
“We love to show what we do because it’s so unusual and heart warming,” Reed said. “It’s a community effort that Santa Barbara can and should be proud of. It’s very unique.”

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