Need a reminder of the true meaning of the season? Here are more than a dozen opportunities to give gifts to fellow Austinites who truly need your help.
Our annual list of “Sponsor a Family” and Toy Drives offers a variety of opportunities for families, companies, organizations and individuals. Browse the projects below and get started. And please let us know if we missed any — make sure the information is available online before you send!
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR GIVING: Wait! Before you start shopping for toys and tying on bows, please take a look at these 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 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. If that’s important to you, 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.
- 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. No time for or interest in shopping? Many of the organizations can buy at special prices and make your dollar go farther.
Austin Children’s Service “Project Santa”
WHO THEY SERVE: ACS serves families in their time of biggest need. And the holidays can be terribly hard on them. Unfortunately, ACS has grown so much in the last year that the number of gifts it needs to sponsor has grown from 419 to 874! In order to maintain the amount of gifts we typically provide each child and family, it still needs to find sponsorship for 420 gifts. Please sign up now.
WHAT THEY NEED: Gift cards and new items only please. Please keep in mind that these are families and children who are escaping abuse and neglect. There are certain toys that are not appropriate (See GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR GIVING, above).
HOW: ACS lets you give cash or gift cards, but you can also donate toys in general and/or fulfill a child’s wish list.
WHEN THEY NEED IT: Deadlines for donations vary — and many are around Thanksgiving time — so please take a look now to put it on your list of to-do’s.
Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade
WHO THEY SERVE: Operation Blue Santa recipients
WHAT THEY NEED: Unwrapped toys
HOW: Bring new, unwrapped toys to the parade, wait for the big empty trucks to roll down, run up with your toy and drop it in the bed
WHEN THEY NEED IT: Nov. 29 from 11 am – 12 pm during the downtown parade.
CASA of Travis County Holiday Toy Drive
WHO THEY SERVE: More than 1,000 children spending the holidays in foster care away from their family.
WHAT THEY NEED: $30 Target and Wal-Mart Gift Cards and cash donations for the Toy Drive
WHEN THEY NEED IT: Dec. 3
HOW: Some of the children have requests for specific items, but the opportunities to fulfill those wishes are often taken. But you can still give the children gift cards – as many as you can!
Texas Advocacy Project Holiday Wishes
WHO THEY SERVE: Provides free legal services statewide to victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
WHAT THEY NEED: Gifts for mothers and their children, based on the family’s wish list.
HOW: Visit their online “adopt a family” tool, browse the families and their wish lists, and register to give one or more of the gifts. The tool is a little wonky — make sure you scroll up and down after clicking on your selections.
WHEN: Gifts must be delivered by Dec. 5.
Foundation Communities Holiday Assistance
WHO THEY SERVE: Foundation Communities provides affordable housing communities for families across Austin.
WHAT THEY NEED: New gift items like gift cards, toys, household supplies, sports equipment and more.
HOW: Complete a form online to sponsor a family or make an appointment to drop off gift items.
WHEN THEY NEED IT: If you’d like to sponsor a family, you must complete a form by Dec. 5. To just drop off donated items, please make an appointment from Dec. 3 – 11 during normal business hours.
WHO THEY SERVE: UT-Austin employees and their families with special needs over the holidays
WHAT THEY NEED: Anything kids would like and babies would need. Unwrapped, please.
HOW: Choose items from the long list of suggestions and drop them off at an on-campus collection station. These items are then shelved at the program’s Holiday Store, where parents in need can “shop” for gifts
WHEN THEY NEED IT: Drop it off by Dec. 5 in order to have them in the store by the time parents shop.
SafePlace Holiday Program
WHO THEY SERVE: Adults and children who are victims of domestic violence.
WHAT THEY NEED: Items off clients’ wish lists, usually for young children and mothers
WHEN THEY NEED IT: Dec. 8
HOW: Sign up online at and SafePlace will be matching people to their families on a rolling basis up until the final day, Dec. 8. As soon as you are matched to a family, you will receive an email with their family’s wishlist. Then take gifts to the SafePlace Resource Center Community Room Dec. 12-16.
Lifeworks Project Holiday Help
WHO THEY SERVE: Youth and young families seeking to build a path to self-sufficiency.
WHAT THEY NEED: Gifts for the youth and families.
HOW: The online process walks you through choosing whether you want to help a single youth or a young family, gives you an estimate of how much you’ll spend on each ($75 – $250) and even when you’d like to drop the item off. You can also sign up to give gift cards and backpacks to incoming clients.
WHEN THEY NEED IT: Wrapped and labeled gifts dropped off to LifeWorks Dec. 12-14.
Saint Louise House Home for the Holidays
WHO THEY SERVE: Provides safe and supportive housing for homeless women and children
WHAT THEY NEED: Gifts from the families’ wish lists. This is an “Adopt a Family” opportunity.
HOW: Contact Mindy Heredia at 512-302-0027 X 17.
WHEN THEY NEED IT: New, wrapped gifts and gift cards delivered by Dec. 10
Family Eldercare Holiday Giving Drive
WHO THEY SERVE: Elderly people who often have little or no family
WHAT THEY NEED: People to sponsor a senior, purchase gifts off their wish lists and deliver them.
HOW: Complete the online form. Sponsors will be provided with a client in mid-November.
WHEN THEY NEED IT: All gifts must be delivered by Dec. 10
Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program
WHO THEY SERVE: Disadvantaged families in Travis and Williamson Counties
WHAT THEY NEED: Gifts that fulfill wish lists
HOW: Find an Angel Tree at malls and other locations around Austin or go online after Nov. 19 and “pull” an angel from there. Last year, 200 companies and organizations helped fulfill the gift requests of more than 4,000 Angels. The remaining 2,800 Angels were adopted from our Mall Angel Trees and our online Angel Tree. Volunteers at our Christmas Cheer Center work for weeks sorting and distributing all of these gifts.
WHEN THEY NEED IT: Bring your gifts to a designated mall between Nov. 15- Dec. 13. You can also bring the gifts to the “Christmas Cheer Center” on South Congress.
Partnerships for Children Holiday Wishes
WHO THEY SERVE: Children in the care of Child Protective Services.
WHAT THEY NEED: Donations, child sponsorships or general gifts of toys
HOW: Make a donation online and they’ll shop for you or sponsor a child. You can also attend the GivingCity Pop-Up Toy Drive on Dec. 2 benefiting Partnerships for Children.
WHEN THEY NEED IT: Gifts must be turned in or picked up by Dec. 11.
Any Baby Can Wish List
WHO THEY SERVE: Impoverished children and their families
WHAT THEY NEED: Baby items, nursery equipment and furniture, arts and crafts supplies for preschoolers.
HOW: Shop for the items off the online wish list.
Operation Blue Santa
WHO THEY SERVE: They provide food and toys for about 5,000 families in need.
WHAT THEY NEED: People to adopt families and give them items they need.
HOW: To adopt a family, complete an online form. Blue Santa will let you select the family you wish to adopt and then you contact that family by phone, asking them about their needs. You give as much as you can. And then you make arrangements with the family to deliver to their home. You can also donate cash or unwrapped toys at APD Stations across Austin.
WHEN THEY NEED IT: Registration will open soon.
NOTE: There are “Santa” programs across Central Texas if you don’t live within Austin city limits. Find other Santa programs to donate to — or apply for.
DOES YOUR FAMILY NEED HELP THIS YEAR?
- First, we recommend you call 2-1-1 from your phone. That will get you the area’s service providers who can assist you.
- Second, if you have children, make sure you reach out their school counselor. If you call them, they probably know a church or organization in your area that is helping families do Christmas this year.
- Third, you should go to the Blue Santa site and apply for assistance. You must live in Austin to be eligible, but there’s a list of links to other “Santa” programs in surrounding counties.