Topics: Charity and Dignity in Hard Times, Unity Shoppe and Protestant Work Ethic
On this episode of Solutions News, Rinaldo Brutoco interviews Tom Reed, the Executive Director of Unity Shoppe - one of the oldest and most successful public charities in Santa Barbara. Unity Shoppe’s unique and powerful business model, which is all about honoring the dignity of individuals and families in our community who’ve fallen on hard times, has been recognized by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and more recently Brad Paisley, who’s been working to replicate its model in Nashville, TN. Taking a page out of Unity Shoppe’s book, we open the show with a story exploring solutions to poverty and unemployment in the current economy and end with a brief history of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Tom was born in San Antonio, Texas and was raised in Michigan. He graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s degree in advertising, and served in the United States Air Force as a pilot during the Viet Nam War. After relocating to California in 1974, Tom became involved in the non-profit world with local businessmen in northern Califoria and Nevada. He produced a radio program for 12 years, wrote and recorded numerous songs as he expanded his non-profit work while entertaining at men’s conferences throughout America and Chile.
Tom joined the Unity Shoppe staff in 2002 as Director of Development. He applied his background in real estate development, the non-profit environment, networking and public interface during a major Capital Campaign to purchase a second building for the Unity Shoppe on State Street. This building would be used for low-income families as a “Central Distribution Facility” for food, clothing and holiday gifts and also allow the Unity Shoppe a store frontage for retail sales to raise some of its own funding. The State Street and VSCH buildings were in close proximity and this allowed clients, volunteers and staff to work between the buildings to collect, process and distribute needed merchandise to the clients of 300 other agencies.
In January 2004, Tom became Executive Director of the Unity Shoppe, applying his public relations and fundraising experiences to raise awareness of Unity’s mission. With the proper space to improve services the staff was increased, more volunteers and charities became aware of the work, better and more consistant support services were available and more clients were referred. Amidst heavy lay-offs, businesses experienced uncertainty and their revenues declined. The 175 referring agencies, including service organizations, hospitals, churches, and schools grew to over 300, and the services Unity provided helped many people avoid homelessness and welfare dependency until they could find another job. After twenty-three years of working to pay off the morgage on VSCH, Unity suffered the devastating loss of their ownership rights in the Victoria Street Community House and Vic Hall. Tom helped in the acquisition and transition to a new site at 110 W. Sola Street and 1401 Chapala Street for corporate offices and Family Program Services so the agency could start all over again to obtain the ownership of its work site.
Currently, as spokesperson for Unity, he works closely with Unity’s Board of Directors and the Unity Management team to provide a shared vision for the future of the agency, implementing goals and objectives to advance Unity’s mission of helping those in need on their road to self-sufficiency. The need for providing the right food and basic necessities, in an atmosphere where those at risk can retain their dignity and the respect of their children, is what motivates Mr. Reed so the low-income can find hope for a much better future for their families.