Before we proceed with the annual list of nonprofits accepting gifts for the families they serve, I’d like to highlight one of the more rewarding “adopt a family” opportunities you’ll ever have: the Austin American-Statesman’s Season for Caring Campaign.
For 21 years now, the Statesman has collaborated with local charities like iACT, Capital IDEA, HAAM, Wonders & Worries, Caritas of Austin, Any Baby Can, and more, to select and profile some of the neediest people in Austin. These are families who face an uncommon amount of bad luck combined with dire circumstances. What will strike you the most is how simple their needs are: One family needs plumbing repairs. Another needs books and winter coats. A couple hopes for one last dinner at a restaurant together.
You’re invited to read the family’s stories online. At the end of each story, there’s a list of items they need. To donate, contact the nonprofit listed and let them know what you’d like to give. They’ll work with you to make the arrangements. The Statesman also makes it easy to donate to the fund online, but a surprising number of people still like to donate by check via the mail. The Statesman has raised about $12 million for families like these over the years. It’s great.
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR GIVING:
- DO GIVE EARLY. Most programs need donated gifts a week or two before Christmas. Don’t expect to be able to give to one of these programs the week of the holiday.
- DO ENLIST FAMILY, CO-WORKERS. Sponsoring a family is more fun – and more affordable – when you can share the task with others.
- DON’T EXPECT TO MEET THE RECIPIENTS. In most cases, you won’t be able to meet the family or children you’re sponsoring. Social service organizations have to protect the privacy and safety of their clients. You understand. If that’s important to you, though, consider the Operation Blue Santa project below.
- DON’T GIVE TOY WEAPONS. Remember that many of the children receiving these gifts may have been through some terrible experiences of abuse or neglect. Focus on non-violent toys (no Nerf guns), toys that don’t need the Internet; no jump ropes, no toys depicting violence, no iTunes gift cards, no walkie-talkies. Comforting, lovable toys are best for these kids.
- DO GIVE WRAPPING PAPER, BATTERIES. Consider donating wrapping paper if they ask for unwrapped gifts and batteries for all those gifts that need them.
- DO GIVE CASH IN THE FORM OF A DONATION TO THE FAMILY. No time for or interest in shopping? Many of the organizations can buy at special prices and make your dollar go farther.
- DO GIVE YOUR UNWANTED GIFT CARDS. Not really into Olive Garden? Not heading to a ToysRUs anytime soon? Mail any gift cards you can’t use to any of the charities that serve families in need.
- DO GIVE NEW. While donations of gently used items are great year round, for gift-giving, giving new items are best when you can. They convey the spirit of giving and, more importantly, the gift of dignity.
- DO GIVE IN HONOR OF SOMEONE: A donation to the cause someone cares about makes a great gift and can be really meaningful to someone who seems to have everything. Look for online forms that allow you to indicate whom the gift is in honor of, like Caritas below.
- DO CONSIDER VOLUNTEERING: Donating items is great, but someone needs to organize, wrap, and distribute all these gifts, too! Look for ways you can show up and help. A great way to restore your faith in humanity.
- DO GIVE TO PROGRAMS IN THE SURROUNDING COUNTIES. There are “Santa” programs across Central Texas if you don’t live within Austin city limits. Here’s where to find other Santa programs to donate to — or apply for.
OPPORTUNITIES TO GIVE in alphabetical order:
Austin Child Guidance Center
Who They Help: Children and families in need of mental health intervention, diagnosis, and treatment
Ways to Give: Donate from their varied and unique wish list or donate monetarily online.
Deadline: Donated items from the wish list will be shared immediately.
More Info: E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to participate
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas
Who They Help: Provide one-to-one mentoring services to approximately 1,000 at-risk youth ages 6 – 18 in Central Texas. BBBS has a list of more than 500 children who are waiting to be matched with mentors (Big Brothers and Sisters) of their own.
Ways to Give: This December, hundreds of Bigs and Littles will celebrate the season together at our annual Holiday Party enjoying food, festivities, music, games, and gifts. You can help bring smiles to their faces by donating an unwrapped gift for a child aged 12-17. They are also looking for gift cards up to $10 for retail outlets such as Walmart, Target, Starbucks, Amy’s Ice Cream, and others.
Deadline: Donations should be delivered to Big Brothers Big Sisters at 4800 Manor Rd., Building K, before December 3.
More Info: 512-472-5437 or at visit the Holiday Gift Drive page
Caritas Home for the Holidays
Who They Help: Homeless families, refugees, and veterans
Ways to Give: Choose from a list of items like prescription co-pays, art therapy supplies, a week of groceries, a welcome home basket, rental assistance, and more.
Deadline: No deadline given, but best before Christmas Day, December 25.
More Info: Caritas of Austin
Who They Help: Children in the first 48 hours of being in the Central Texas foster care system.
Ways to Give: Make a Hope Pack for kids entering the foster care system. Carrying Hope lists items by age and gender. Packs are less than $100 each.
Deadline: Packs accepted throughout the holidays.
More Info: Carrying Hope Make a Hope Pack
CASA of Travis County Holiday Toy Drive
Who They Help: More than 1,000 children spending the holidays in foster care away from their family.
Ways to Give: Donate $30 Target and Wal-Mart gift cards for children to choose their own gift.
Deadline: Gift cards needed before Dec. 4
More Info: CASA Toy Drive
Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade
Who They Help: The Children Giving to Children Parade benefits Operation Blue Santa
Ways to Give: Bring an unwrapped toy and Santa’s Helpers will collect toys during the parade to be distributed to children for the holidays.
When: Anytime before the Nov. 30 parade
More Info: Chuy’s Parade
Family Eldercare Holiday Giving Drive
Who They Help: Elderly people who often have little or no family support
Ways to Give: Sponsor a senior by purchasing gifts off their wish lists. Deliver gifts to a client and spend a little time with them. Great for families!
Deadlines: To shop for a client and have Family Eldercare deliver, turn in gifts by Dec. 8. To shop and deliver yourself, please deliver by Dec 22.
More Info: Family Eldercare
Foundation Communities Holiday Assistance
Who They Help: Foundation Communities provides affordable housing communities for families across Austin.
Ways to Give: Four ways to give: Sponsor a family, donate to the Holiday Drive from the wish list, make a holiday donation and let them shop for you, and spread the word to others.
Deadlines: If you’d like to sponsor a family, sponsor request forms are due Friday, December 5; deliveries of gifts are accepted December 9-16.
More Info: Foundation Communities
Operation Blue Santa
Who They Help: They provide food and toys for about 5,000 families in need.
Ways to Give: This is one of those rare “adopt-a-family” opportunities that lets you select the family you want to give to, contact them directly, inquire what it is they want and then deliver it to them. If you go to this page, just scroll to the bottom and click “on-line sponsor login” to get started. At the time of this post there were still 627 families in need of assistance.
Deadline: The deadline to adopt a family is Dec. 14
More Info: Operation Blue Santa
NOTE: The deadline for families to apply for assistance is Nov. 30. See site for additional “Santa” opportunities for those who live outside Austin city limits. Click here to apply.
Who They Help: UT-Austin employees and their families with special needs over the holidays
Ways to Give: Drop-off unwrapped toys, gift cards and wrapping supplies at the offices in UT parking garages or at a number of athletic events throughout the fall.
Deadline: Drop off stations will be open Nov. 1- Dec. 5, this way parents have time to shop, wrap and put gifts under their trees at home.
More Info: Orange Santa
Partnerships for Children Holiday Wishes
Who They Help: Children in the care of Child Protective Services. Last year, Partnerships for Children provided gifts to more than 5,100 children in Central Texas.
Ways to Give: Donations, sponsor a child, or general gifts of toys, Dec 9 – 14.
Deadline: Gifts must be delivered through Christmas. For more information, contact HolidayWishes@partnershipsforchildren.org .
More Info: Partnerships for Children Holiday Wishes
Saint Louise House’s Home for the Holidays
Who They Help: Provides housing and essential services to mothers and children experiencing homelessness in Central Texas.
Ways to Give: Sponsor a family or provide gift cards to help support moms who want to do a little shopping for their families. This organization also accepts stocking-stuffers like stickers, pencils and other small toys. And they’re also looking for Christmas Pajamas to help the kids stay warm – and festive.
Deadline: New, wrapped gifts, stocking-stuffers, pajamas and gift cards delivered the first week of December.
More Info: Saint Louise House’s Home for the Holidays
SAFE Holidays Wish List
Who They Help: Families facing abuse or neglect and currently living in the shelter and/or moving into the shelter over the holidays.
Ways to Give: Sign up to sponsor a family or provide some general gifts for those families who find themselves moving into the shelter suddenly.
Deadline: Gifts dropped off Dec. 8-10.
More Info: SAFE Holidays
Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program
Who They Help: Children and families in need in Travis and Williamson Counties
Ways to Give: Visit an “Angel Tree” at an area mall or choose an “Angel” from the online Angel Tree. Choose to Adopt an Angel by picking a name from an “Angel Tree” and purchasing gifts for a specific child and bringing them unwrapped to a drop-off location. You can also donate money to help them purchase gifts for the holidays. Angle Tree locations will be in area malls through Dec. 16.
Deadline: Choose an “Angel” and bring your unwrapped gifts to a designated mall from Nov. 9 – Dec 14.
More Info: Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program
Southwest Key Christmas Angel Program
Who They Help: Low-income youth and families in Central Texas and in the East Austin Children’s Promise program.
Ways to Give: Sign up to sponsor a child or family. Southwest Key will match you with a client and send you their names, ages and needs. You shop for them and deliver the gifts to Southwest Key’s campus in East Austin.
Deadline: Deadlines vary.
More Info: Southwest Key Christmas Angel Program
Texas Advocacy Project’s Hope for the Holidays Gift Drive
Who They Help: The Project provides free legal services to Victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
Ways to Give: Donate money to fund the wish lists of six families who have been nominated by a Project attorney and have transitioned from a home filled with violence to one of safety and security. See their wish lists online.
Deadline: Dec. 6
More Info: Texas Advocacy Project
What did we miss this year? Please feel free to add a drive you know about.