Condolence donations honoring the enormity of Barbara’s legacy can be made to

The Barbara E. Tellefson Building & Programs Fund, HERE.


Remembering Our Beloved Barbara…Young Barbara black and white

In November, we lost our matriarch and founder, Barbara Tellefson, after a brief bout with an aggressive illness. She was 84. Barbara’s singular focus and half century of devotion to our Santa Barbara County Community was in a league of its own, and in the months since her passing, this has been confirmed by the scores of well-wishers describing her as “Saint Barbara,” an “unstoppable force for good,” “a walking heart of gold,” a woman who “inspired others to join her in moving mountains.” Kenny Loggins, a loyal friend and supporter of Barbara and Unity Shoppe for the past 35 years, said he has been “forever changed by experiencing this woman’s incredible grit and determination to find the means to help over one million people in Santa Barbara during her lifetime.”

Barbara Tellefson prided herself on being a human rights champion with a strong work ethic, attributing both her pragmatism and stance in defense of basic human rights to the fundamental values instilled in her eight decades earlier by her family.

How it All Started…

In the small town of Dinwiddie, Virginia, Barbara absorbed important life lessons as she worked alongside her parents as they learned the language and reinvented themselves in a new world with few resources. Emigres from Germany who managed to escape before the full onset of World War II and the atrocities of the Holocaust that would ensue, her family arrived in the United States penniless, but eventually cobbled together enough money to buy a simple side-of-the-highway motel with adjoining dinette and gas station. Throughout her life, Barbara referred to those years in Dinwiddie as the place she developed a profound appreciation for “people of all kinds passing through on their lives’ journeys.” Barbara’s father died in 1958, and her step mother followed a few years later. With both parents gone, Barbara was left to take care of her much younger brother, Stephen, a little boy at the time. After several years of low-paying jobs throughout the country in order to find a way to make ends meet and survive as a “single mother,” Barbara arrived in Santa Barbara in the mid-1960s — penniless and alone. She secured work as a travel agent in town and later met and married local engineer, Clair Tellefson, in 1969. It was then that Barbara vowed never to forget her roots or life’s rough patches and actively focus on volunteer work to help struggling single mothers raise their children, much like she had.

“When we strive to improve the economic situation or sense of hopelessness experienced by our neighbors, we mustn’t ever forget to show them respect and elevate their dignity at every turn.”

– Barbara Tellefson, 2020 upon receiving the Human Rights Award from the U.N. Association


Creating a Life in Santa Barbara, Where Unity Shoppe is Born…

By 1973, Barbara began volunteering at the Council of Christmas Cheer founded by Dr. Chase founded in 1917 and served under Dr. Chase’s leadership for more than 20 years. When asked about those early years with the Council and why she remained for so long, 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 promised that she would “re-commit her life and resources” to helping the most vulnerable in the Community 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 without notices at the whim of area landlords. By 1987, the Council was renamed Unity Shoppe thanks in part to the support of entertainer Kenny Loggins, whom she convinced to help her get local television station KEYT-TV as a partner in the production of a Unity Shoppe Telethon fundraiser in support of Santa Barbara’s low income residents. After several years of ups and downs, Barbara was ultimately able to achieve the kind of organizational stability and breadth of programming she felt were essential to keeping the non-profit she founded open year-round and relevant. Barbara insisted that people in need should never be made to feel they had to turn over their dignity, autonomy, or independent decisionmaking in order to receive something in return. Thanks to Barbara, this sentiment remains at the core of Unity Shoppe’s work and purpose to this day. Whether during the 2017-2018 Thomas Fires and Debris Flow or today, or with the impact of this latest Covid-19 pandemic, Unity Shoppe, under Barbara’s deft leadership, was able to undertake massive but focused programmatic overhauls to meet the specific needs of the Community’s residents as they arose from each crisis.

Her Vision Lives On in Santa Barbara and Elsewhere…

Unity Shoppe continues onward under new and similarly dedicated leadership, but also in cities like Nashville, TN and Blacksburg, VA. In 2012, country singer Brad Paisley and his family volunteered at Unity Shoppe while visiting Santa Barbara and were so taken by how the mission was executed, they committed the next few years to replicating the model in their hometown of Nashville, calling it The Store and launching it two years later. In 2019, an alumni couple of Virginia Tech University put up the seed money to open The Market, after learning that many students attending their alma mater were struggling with food insecurity. Hema and Mehul Sanghani said their desire to create The Market was inspired in large part by the mission and tactics employed at Unity Shoppe under Barbara’s direction. In 2015, Barbara had begun penning her life story but, unfortunately, was unable to complete the work before the onset of her illness and untimely passing. Above all else, Barbara dedicated herself to the people she helped; to her mother, father, brother, and husband whom she loved deeply, and to the staff of Unity Shoppe whom she cherished and considered family.

Barbara Tellefson

“All I’ve ever wanted was to build a ‘sustainable community of support’ so that Unity Shoppe could be ‘just the right place’ local residents facing an unforeseen crisis could go to avoid welfare dependence or even homelessness and, most of all, keep their families intact.”


Condolence donations honoring the enormity of Barbara’s legacy can be made to The Barbara E. Tellefson Building & Programs Fund, HERE.


2020: A Challenging (and Rewarding) Year Like No Other

2020 was a year like no other, and it confirmed for us that nothing — not even a worldwide pandemic — could hamper our dedication to the people of Santa Barbara, especially those who felt most vulnerable or experienced sudden job loss and needed a place to turn during this crisis.

Led by our fearless founder, Barbara, we quickly moved into high gear, consolidating all of our progrms and services down to distributing food alone in a way that was safe and would help as many people as possible without losing site of our 100-year-old mission: to offer people choice in what they receive and to do so without compromising their dignity or self-respect. We secured PPE, kept our essential staff and our Community’s most at-risk members healthy and safe, followed all safety guidelines, and met intense cleanliness standards. By doing so we were able to accommodate residents who could shop at Unity directly and receive free groceries they picked out themselves: farm fresh fruits and vegetables, refrigerated dairy products, poultry and beef, bread and baked goods, and canned and boxed staples too. The need for food has been so critical over this past year that we worked hard to ensure our clients, many of whom were families of 4-5 people, could shop for everything they needed every other week (up from only once per month in pre-Covid times). Hours were extended and front of the line privileges and automatic car loading assistance was offered to anyone who needed it by our essential staff, much like at any other supermarket around town. But not everyone was able to shop in person; for immuno-compromized, disabled or homebound residents from Goleta to Carpinteria, we instituted a highly sought after delivery service of groceries they preselected and we delivered right to their door.

We’re Here To Help Those In Need, Year In And Year Out

  • In 2020, the fundraisers we normally count on had to be cancelled!
  • Our Community needed more of our groceries due to the pandemic! 
  • The newly jobless had to shop twice as often to feed their families!




It Takes a Village to Help Our Community!

Someone once said that it takes a village to raise a child. At Unity Shoppe, we say that it takes a village to help a village — and every day we offer our gratitude for that support: to Unity’s essential employees for their selfless work, to our volunteers who normally join us throughout the year, contributing their handiwork and time. And what of our donors? When we ask — and we do ask — their positive response and generosity are never taken for granted!

Ms. Christina Rodriguez: A MOST Essential Worker!

How do we explain why Christina is one of our MOST essential workers? … In her own words, of course!

“From a very young age, all I ever wanted was to rescue and heal all living creatures who were being mistreated and needed caring for. As I got older that feeling only got stronger, so when I found “my perfect first job” at Unity Shoppe, I vowed to keep it for as long as possible! That was 1995, and I’ve never looked back since! Christina has been an integral member of the Unity Shoppe family since joining the team 16 years ago, when she was hired to open Unity’s Gift Shoppe on State Street. Fast forward several years of on the-job training in many different capacities — merchandising, purchasing, inventorying, client services, staff supervision, and volunteer oversight — and you’re left with an employee like no other: the person capable of filling Barbara’s shoes as Manager of Operations! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss our dear Miss Barbara. More than anything, I want to continue to make her proud by fulfilling the role she taught me so well. Partly because it was among her last wishes, but mostly because I owe it to her and to all of the wonderful people who have turned to Unity for help — especially in this last year. Nothing makes me more proud than to be part of a team that can make a genuine difference in the lives of so many who are less fortunate. Leading others with her big warm heart, engaging smile, and years of experience under Barbara’s mentorship, we know Christina will shine bright in her newest role at Unity Shoppe!”

Kathy Hughes: An Extraordinary Volunteer With a Heart of Gold…

Much Like That of Her Hero

No single phrase adequately describes the powerhouse that is Kathy Hughes…a part of the Unity Shoppe family for over 30 years, she’s been a devoted volunteer, donor, cheerleader, Community member, and successful realtor at Berkshire Hathaway who isn’t bashful about sharing her strong work ethic or passion for the woman she considered her mentor, teacher, and friend — Barbara Tellefson. I had the honor of really watching Barbara from up close over the years, and when I think about her… what comes to mind first is how she brought the Santa Barbara Community together at Unity Shoppe and just how many thousands of people she was able to help during her lifetime. Barbara was my hero, and she taught me incredible life lessons that I try to embody every day: how to care, how to give generously to others, and how to treat people — all people — with love and respect. As much as it saddens me to think of Unity Shoppe and our Community without Barbara, I am comforted to know that her legacy lives on in the caring staff who work in service of others — especially during this incredibly trying time. I know that Barbara’s vision and mission will live on in Unity Shoppe with the help of her many caring supporters and volunteers, just like me, for years to come. Thank you, Kathy, for your volunteership and support over three decades, for your most recent sponsorship of our 34th Annual Telethon in December 2020, and the additional matching dollars it generated — thanks to your generous outreach effort — from all across the Community … a heart of gold indeed!

Ready, Set, Go! Taking Our Mission to New Heights

Realities that became clear in 2020 and, by all accounts, will prevail for the next few years, have informed how we plan to help our Community in 2021 and beyond. Whether they’re seniors in assisted living, hourly wage-earning families living in multi-generational households, or the newly unemployed confronted with joblessness due to Covid-related layoffs, we’re ready to take our mission to new heights.

It Would Be Unconscionable to “Un-See” What We Saw in 2020

  • More than 1 in 14 seniors live in poverty locally
  • The working poor, the bulk of our clients, still live on small fixed incomes that in no way cover typical monthly expenses
  • When more than 30% of their income is earmarked for housing, nutritional food often becomes unaffordable for local seniors and others who are physically or economically vulnerable
  • Food insecurity remains a huge problem in our Community with each passing year, as basic nutritional needs go unmet for children through seniors
  • Population subgroups already strained economically are especially susceptible to the negative impact of unexpected events, like this most recent pandemic
  • Many in our Community are homebound and have limited transportation options
  • Social isolation, loneliness, and depression have spiked in the last 14 months

So What Do We Do NOW?

  1. Grow our inventory of food and other essentials so that not a single vulnerable, isolated, or senior resident in need of food is turned away — and allow them to shop twice a month.
  2. Don’t stop offering grocery deliveries to our isolated and most vulnerable clients still impacted by the pandemic.
  3. Expand and deepen the impact of our senior volunteer effort. We must find a way to get even more of the handiworks and custom gifts our senior program volunteers make into the hands and homes of those who need to feel they’ve not been forgotten!

We See Glimmers on the Horizon…

And look forward to the day very soon when our outreach will expand anew: allowing clients and their families safely inside our space to shop for exactly what they want and need, whether it’s in the Grocery and Clothing Store, in the Back-to-School Pop-Up, or in the Holiday Gift Shoppe; reopening our Volunteerism Programs in full and giving the Community the opportunity to be of service; supporting the newly jobless and youth through Job Smart, our employment readiness program; and welcoming the Community back into Gift Shoppe on State Street in search of donated but unique treasures, like clothing, jewelry, home furnishings and more!

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