Two weeks ago, no one could have been prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that, every day more and more Americans find themselves furloughed or fired from their job and are struggling to make ends meet and continue putting food on the table.
And yet, even in these tough times, there are still countless shops trying to lend a helping hand.
Enter, Unity Shoppe, a local nonprofit organization that serves low-income families, children and elderly in Santa Barbara County.
Unity Shoppe is now offering free food and other essentials to Santa Barbarans who are now unemployed or unable to work due to the spread and impact of the current pandemic in the local community.
Unity Shoppe Food Distribution Services is located at 1401 Chapala St. and operates from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“So many people that are coming to us have never been inside the Unity Shoppe and they are suddenly in need of food because they were laid off without any notice,” Pat Hitchcock, director of donor relations, told the News-Press over the phone.
“There was so many companies that suddenly, almost overnight, had to close their doors and those people, many of them, (are) minimum wage (workers)… those people are the ones who aren’t able to go and stock up at Costco and get hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of groceries at one time so we are trying to be there for them.”
Unity has been helping Santa Barbara County natives for more than a century. And, right now, as they see a growing demand.
For example, Unity said in a press release that they are “serving more than three times the number of families that came in for services just 10 days ago.”
“They are afraid, many of them. They don’t know when the next paycheck will be, so for now it’s how will they get basic necessities so we want to be there for them and be the place where they know they can get the groceries that they need,” Ms. Hitchcock said.
Currently, Unity is trying to buy things in wholesale and in large quantities to try to give out as much as they can at one time.
Because of this growing demand, however, Ms. Hitchcock did say “we need monetary donations as quickly as people are willing to give.
“Anything at all will help so that we can give them staples, but also give them fresh fruits and vegetables, both non-perishable and perishable, so that means purchasing daily.”
There are a plethora of ways to donate to Unity. You can visit unityshoppe.org and click on the donate button to do everything online. You can mail any contribution to 1209 State St., Santa Barbara 93101, there is a locked box on 110 W. Sola St. where you can drop off a donation envelope, or you can call Ms. Hitchcock directly at (805) 979-9511 and give her your information over the phone.
“That’s really the best thing people can immediately help us with, purchase food. That’s our biggest challenge, getting enough food to meet the demand that we have right now and we expect to keep growing over the next couple of weeks and months,” Ms. Hitchcock said.
“It could be six to 12 months until things are normalized for most families that are low income.”
Additionally, donations of non-perishables can be dropped off from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at Unity’s side entrance at 110 W. Sola St.
Despite it being a tough time, Ms. Hitchcock said she is proud of the way Unity’s staff has stepped up.
“It’s amazing. They are greeting people, being friendly, they’re keeping their distance of course, but they’re providing everything that these people need,” Ms. Hitchcock said.
“They’ve just been amazing. We’re really, really proud of our staff and how they have stepped up. They’re just doing the best they can given the circumstances.”
Unity has also made sure to adapt to the current climate by adhering to social distancing. Unity only allows a few customers at a time to keep everyone safe while the entire staff is always wearing gloves and masks.
“It’s really better than going into a real grocery store, to be honest with you, because everything is being handled so carefully,” Ms. Hitchcock said.
In general, Ms. Hitchcock also wanted to make it clear that no one should be embarrassed to seek the type of help that places such as Unity are providing.
“We don’t want them to be embarrassed, we don’t want them to feel like they don’t deserve to be there, we want the parents to be the heroes in their households and we want everyone to feel safe and that they’re getting healthy food from us,” Ms. Hitchcock said.
As times get worse before they get better, places like Unity are providing relief to hundreds if not thousands of people. And day by day, Ms. Hitchcock is noticing more and more people are also willing to lend a helping hand.
“I think people are starting to. Lots of people have been in their own state of shock and figuring out their own situation but now they’re realizing, those that can must step up,” Ms. Hitchcock said.
“They must step up and help because these are the people that we depend on in our community to do so many jobs and so many of them have never been unemployed … so there’s just a need that all of us must come together as a community to take care of each other.”
Asked what drives her to continue providing relief along with the rest of her staff, Ms. Hitchcock had a simple response.
“Because we know we are making a difference to those families and elderly that are struggling,” Ms. Hitchcock said.
“That really is a motivator. Giving them hope and letting them know that we’re here and we’re going to continue to be there for them.”