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Unity Shoppe Telethon features surprises

Unity Shoppe Executive Director Tom Reed, left, speaks with Jeff and Susan Bridges. KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS

Unity Shoppe Executive Director Tom Reed, left, speaks with Jeff and Susan Bridges.
KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS

The 28th annual Unity Shoppe Telethon got some surprise help this year, in keeping with its slogan “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”

Still hosted by KEYT, the four-hour event tries to keep to its tried-and-true plan of musical guests, interviews and tours of the large facility that provides low-income families with a chance to shop for the goods they need, not rely on random handouts and gifts.

Past telethons have been held at KEYT and the old Unity Shoppe location, and organizers weren’t sure the new Unity Shoppe at Sola and Chapala streets would be large enough.

But one block of Sola was blocked to traffic in order to set up an assembly tent, live broadcast truck and generator, and the event was staged entirely at the new location, with its largest room turned into a beautiful stage and performance area, lined with Christmas trees and multicolored lights.

The technological edge came through the donations of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, represented Saturday evening by Kenneth Kahn, secretary treasurer of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and Unity Shoppe board chair.

“We’ve been able to go full circle,” Mr. Kahn said. “Unity was able to help a lot of our tribal members years ago. Now we are in a different position today … so we’re thankful to partner up with such a powerful organization that helps out so many in Santa Barbara County.”

Mr. Kahn enlisted the help of the Chumash Casino Resort’s entertainment workers to provide lighting and other stage equipment to help offset the cost of what would have been an expensive rental.

Director of Operations Barbara Tellefson was thrilled.

“I’ve never seen it look so beautiful in there,” she said, regarding the stage.

Executive Director Tom Reed noted many Santa Barbarans don’t know about the services provided by Unity Shoppe.

“The telethon is our opportunity to communicate with the community about what we do. But it’s not us doing it. We’re the hands and feet — it’s the community that takes care of its own.”

The nonprofit works with a minimal staff of 13, supported by 6,000 volunteers, to assist 10,000 families year-round, Mr. Reed said.

Live entertainers Saturday night included Dave Gonzales, Meredith Garofalo, Lauren Hosted, the San Marcos High Madrigals, Lois Mahalia, and KEYT’s Paula Lopez, who sang “Testify to Love.”

Kenny Loggins, a longtime supporter of the charity, could not appear and was represented by taped segments. Peter Noone, himself a longtime guest, also could not show, but three members of his fan club, offering a 2015 calendar of his photos, appeared instead.

However, another longtime friend of the Unity Shoppe, actor Jeff Bridges, not only appeared but got in on the fun. While the Pacific Sounds Chorus rehearsed a spot, one of their members invited him to join them; soon Mr. Bridges was in the middle of the group, singing along on “Deck the Halls” and the Beach Boys’ “Little St. Nick.”

Susan Bridges, Jeff’s wife, joined her husband on stage and announced that for the final hour, they would match any donation that came in.

“That was a spontaneous thing that she just threw out there and I hope people respond,” Mr. Bridges said. The couple also got a tour of the new Unity Shoppe and were impressed.

“It’s great, and everything is in one spot now,” Mr. Bridges said. “But they’re still in the hole. We need to fund these guys so they stick around. If not, they could all go ‘poof’ and we could lose it.”

In 2013, the telethon raised $315,820. This year’s total will be announced later this week.

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