THE HISTORY OF UNITY
One of Santa Barbara’s most beloved and long-standing charities was founded over a hundred years ago.
Famed civic leader, historic preservationist and conservationist, Dr. Pearl Chase, among many other things also founded Unity Shoppe’s predecessor, known as the Council of Christmas Cheer in 1917.
It was a charity staffed with volunteers who collected food, clothing, and used toys to give to mothers who were heading up households while their husbands had been drafted to fight in the military during World War I.
By 1972, Barbara Tellefson, Unity Shoppe’s founder, fondly described as “Saint Barbara,” began her first 20 years of volunteerism with Dr. Pearl Chase at the Council. When she was asked about those early years with the Council, Barbara explained: “I was immediately struck by how the Council welcomed and aided all Santa Barbarans — the young, old, rich and poor, people from all races, creeds and colors. As Dr. Chase was getting ready to retire, Barbara made a promise to her that she would commit her life to helping the most vulnerable as best as she could for as long as she could.
In 1983, Barbara was able to secure the Council’s first building to avoid the incredible hardship of repeated moves from rental spaces. By 1987, the Council was renamed Unity Shoppe thanks in part to the support of entertainer Kenny Loggins and local television station KEYT-TV as partners in the production of a fundraising telethon in support of Santa Barbara’s low income residents.
But Barbara took it a step further, insisting that people in need should never be made to feel they have to turn over their dignity, autonomy, or independent decision-making in order to receive something in return. This sentiment was imbued in Unity Shoppe’s work and remains its core purpose to this day.