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Celebrities, community rally this weekend to help those in need in Santa Barbara County

Actors Rob Lowe, Jeff Bridges (left) and Kenny Loggins get a tour of Santa Barbara's Unity Shoppe from Executive Director Angela Miller-Bevan.

Santa Barbara's Unity Shoppe hoping to raise more than $500,000 through weekend telethon featuring Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Jeff Bridges, and Rob Lowe.

A woman has just gone through the checkout area, and is headed out the door of a unique store in downtown Santa Barbara. The single mother has a half dozen bags full of goodies for her three children.

"I have food, toys, presents for my kids," said the woman.

What makes the store unusual is that she didn’t pay a single cent during her shopping trip. She visited the Unity Shoppe, a Santa Barbara based non-profit agency which helps financially struggling Santa Barbara County residents.

People in need can go to the store, and pick out food, clothing, and toys for their kids, and they can do it with dignity.

"The need is extremely high right now, because of the fact Santa Barbara County has been hit with very high rents, and cost of living, " said Angela Miller-Bevan, who is the Unity Shoppe’s Executive Director.

"Everything has doubled, and so that means our numbers have doubled. In 2022, in January we saw about 500 people come though our doors. And in January of 2023, we saw over a thousand," she said.

Many of those helped are single parent homes, with the parent working in the service jobs which keep the community running. With high rents, it’s a battle to make ends meet. Miller-Bevan talks about how Unity stretches dollars.

"A hundred dollars would give 40 pounds of fresh produce. $500 would be a month of groceries for a family," said Miller-Bevan.

During its different forms over its more than 100 year long history, the Unity Shoppe has helped hundreds of thousands of people. It’s grown into an organization which also has programs for seniors, kids headed back to school and those needing work. It works with 400 non-profits in the county, to make sure aid gets to those who need it.

This weekend, the non-profit will be featured in what’s become a Tri-Counties holiday tradition. The Unity Telethon. Kenny Loggins and KEYT-TV created the Unity Telethon in 1987.

"To think of it in those terms, it makes me especially grateful to be in Santa Barbara. This community has supported Unity from the very beginning," said Loggins. "We weren't sure it would keep going, we weren't sure we could raise the money to keep it going forward...but here we are."

The telecast features musical performers by community groups, and big names who live in the community like Loggins, Michael McDonald and Brad Paisley.

Actor Rob Lowe is one of the celebrities who is helping. "This isn't just a place we live...I raised my kids here...I coached Little League here...we trick-or-treat here," said Lowe. "This is our neighborhood. This is one of those moments where everyone comes together."

Actor Jeff Bridges said he learned about giving back through his parents. "I'm drawn towards it. Kenny Loggins is so responsible for the success of the Unity Shoppe, and Kenny and I go way, way back, and we have been involved in various hunger projects."

Telecast producer Jeff Martin, from KEYT-TV, said Unity does an amazing job. "There are 7 or 8 different types of services they provide all year," said Martin. "It's about dignity, and choice. The entire idea is to get you back on your feet."

The telethon airs from 5-8 p.m. December 8, on KEYT, Channel 3. Unity Shoppe officials say with record numbers of people in need coming to the Shoppe, they hope to raise more than a half million dollars during the telecast. They expect to serve more than 7,000 people during the holiday season.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.