Story by Taylor Micaela Davis
Two natural disasters destroyed two of Tom Reed’s homes in the span of five years, which is enough to make one question the inner-workings of the universe. “[The second disaster] was a turning point in my life,” he says. “I started thinking about what had value. Going back into the business world just to make money didn’t really matter.”
Instead, San Antonio-born, Michigan-raised Reed spent his time motivating others, giving meaningful and fulfilling talks about life and significance, writing songs about his experiences, and hosting small groups to promote friendships in the business world. After moving to Santa Barbara in 2000, he soon met his wife Marcia. They married in 2002, giving him two stepdaughters.
Reed not only found love when he moved to town, but also a tangible, see-the-look-on-their-faces way of positively impacting people’s lives: Unity Shoppe.
When Barbara Tellefson approached Reed for help in 2001, he didn’t hesitate. Unity needed a new space (where its gift shop now stands at 1219 State St.), and only had 30 days to raise $2.1 million.
“She said, ‘I need you to volunteer, because I don’t have the money to hire you,’” says Reed. With 25 years of nonprofit work under his belt, Reed started brainstorming and getting the fundraising word out there. Thirty days later, Reed and Tellefson made the impossible, possible.
“Pierre Claeyssens saw the press release and, at 93 years old, sent us a personal fax saying ‘I’d be willing to match anything you can raise…up to a million dollars.’ In 30 days, we raised enough to give us two million. It showed me how much the community valued this thing called the Unity Shoppe,” says Reed.
At present, he serves as executive director for the organization, and has made it his mission to make Unity Shoppe known throughout Santa Barbara, citing community awareness as an ongoing effort.
“I’ve had people live in this town for 40 years and when I finally get them to come down, their response is almost universal: ‘I had no idea this existed.’”
Unity Shoppe, often associated with the Christmas groceries, children’s toys and senior gifts program from its early days, is a gem of an organization, hosting ten programs that help community members going through tough times get back on their feet. Providing food and household items, clothing, school supplies, baby items, job training, work attire, furniture, and disaster relief services are all at the core of the Unity mission, as well as the gift shop and Senior Resource Center, which offers care packages for seniors.
Although some of these programs preceded him, their growth and longevity are directly linked to Tom Reed’s pioneering attitude and optimistic view of the past, present and future.
Reed’s vision for Unity Shoppe is not one of cursory goals—and his devotion to the organization can be seen in his childlike excitement about the organization’s new headquarters at 110 W. Sola St.
With the telethon on the winter horizon (Dec. 14) and several new developments in the works, jolly Tom Reed isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The move to the new building brought ideas galore from Reed, from converting a large back room into the Loggins Community Event Center (Kenny Loggins has been an invaluable supporter of Unity since 1988)—complete with stage, dining capabilities and tons of space—to conceptualizing a commercial kitchen for students to learn food preparation skills that will help them find jobs.
The passion in Reed’s voice for these up-and-coming Unity designs doesn’t waver year-round, although the holiday season certainly brings a new light to his eyes—potentially from the 200 families expected at Unity Shoppe each day in December.
“It’s such a feel-good season, and Unity Shoppe is really Christmas personified,” says Reed. And Reed is certainly Father Christmas to our community.
To learn more about Unity Shoppe, visit unityshoppe.org.
Originally published in the Winter 2013/14 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.