Unity and FoodBank

By Steven Libowitz   |   April 2, 2020
Kenny Loggins has been a Unity Shoppe supporter for years (photo by Jensen Sutta)

Unity Shoppe has come a long way back since a huge gap in its funding forced the nonprofit agency – the largest, single direct distributor of food, clothing, and necessities in the county – into briefly closing its distribution doors for two months in the fall of 2019. The nonprofit shut its doors for the first time in 103 years due to an unanticipated economic downturn, and 15 full-time management and staff employees were laid off while support programs were put on hold.

Now, after returning in time for the holiday season, Unity is stepping up in an even bigger way than ever as the current COVID-19 crisis has forced area employers to make even more massive layoffs.

Recognizing a deep need for the most basic of services, the Unity Shoppe has consolidated its offerings to food distribution alone to meet an ever-increasing demand. The agency estimates it is serving more than three times the number of families that came in for services just in the middle of March, as daily layoffs continue and such vulnerable populations as the unemployed, single-parent families, seniors on fixed incomes, the disabled and homebound start to run out of groceries. The Shoppe is servicing increasing numbers of hourly minimum wage residents who had never needed assistance before. Indeed, over the next six to 12 months, Unity anticipates that its services will be utilized to capacity much like they were during the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow, if not more.

The Shoppe – which as an essential service is able to stay open during the partial shutdown – is following the most up-to-date guidelines for sanitization and safety, and social distancing is being implemented not only while people are waiting in line but also inside the store, where staff members wearing masks and gloves allow people, admitted alone or as a family, to choose by pointing at what they would like.

Accordingly, Unity anticipates that it will go through larger quantities of food and other supplies than ever before to keep up with the growing demand. Donations from the public are needed immediately to purchase both fresh produce and canned, jarred and boxed staples with longer shelf lives, as well as masks and disinfecting wipes to keep Unity staff and the public safe.

That’s where Kenny Loggins comes in. The septuagenarian singer-songwriter, who has been involved with Unity Shoppe for more than three decades and created and participates in the nonprofit’s annual Christmas Unity event, has recorded PSAs to encourage donations.

“Unity is my baby,” Loggins – who has been living on the Mesa ever since being displaced from his Montecito home when the January 9, 2018, debris flow washed out the access bridge – said over the phone on Monday. “I know it works and all the things we say about it are true, which is why we keep saying them. Right now, they’re the best way to get food into people’s homes who need it. Unity is always there and has been for 30 years. The doors are still open and people are showing up in more numbers than ever. But they need support so they can continue to help people with fresh healthy food.”

Unity Shoppe Food Distribution Services is located at 1401 Chapala Street, and is open 1-4 pm Monday-Friday. If you are in need of food or other essentials, call Unity’s main number at 805-965-4122 for assistance. To make monetary donations, visit www.unityshoppe.org or mail checks to 1209 State Street, Santa Barbara, 93101. Donations of nonperishables can be dropped off at Unity’s side entrance: at 110 West Sola Street, 10 am to 5 pm weekdays.

Foodbank Increases Services

Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is also experiencing a sharp increase in those seeking its services. Since COVID-19 safety measures took effect, the Foodbank has quadrupled the amount of food it normally provides to community members facing hunger and food insecurity, at one point earlier in the week distributing 83,000 pounds of food in a single day, a new record that is four times higher than normal. As part of its coronavirus response, the Foodbank has also provided 2,000 home deliveries to seniors in the last two weeks. As with Unity, Foodbank is now providing food and groceries for thousands in our community who have never needed help before, including contractors, salespeople, construction workers, waiters and waitresses, chefs and cooks, childcare providers, bartenders, hairstylists, barbers, drivers, artists, craftspeople, and many others.

At the same time, however, the nonprofit has seen a rapid decline in food donations from many of its sources, so there is an increasing need for support. Meanwhile the organization has widely increased its distribution network, and has a big need for more personnel help. Twenty National Guard personnel have joined the Foodbank for two weeks to help in its two new temporary warehouses, assist at its SAFE Food Net distributions and deliver food to seniors. Visit https://foodbanksbc.org for information on where to get food, how to donate and where to volunteer.


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