This weekend, more than 25,000 people will shop from more than 200 booths at the 43rd annual A Christmas Affair, an event that has become a holiday tradition in Austin. Beyond the vendor booths, there will have been 10 related events, all taking place concurrently with the shopping event and all at Palmer Events Center downtown. But what’s remarkable about the pop-up, mini-mall, fundraiser that is A Christmas Affair is that every single element of it will have been organized and executed by members of the Junior League of Austin, all as volunteers.
The Christmas Affair committee consists of about 85 volunteers, divided into 17 different subcommittees, organizing more than 1,300 other member-volunteers. Some of them act as treasurers, operating the onsite mini-bank to support the merchants. Others manage ticket sales or plan decor and events. Volunteers even manage the hundreds of merchant trucks and trailers in the Palmer parking lot. “Every active member has volunteered in some capacity at A Christmas Affair,” said Junior League of Austin president Amy Hurt.
Planning for each year starts in January and gets especially intense the week before it opens. For Courtney Dickey, Christmas Affair chair-elect, move-in day is her favorite moment. “The committee walks in and sees the event has finally come to life and they think, ‘This is what I’ve been working for, this is why I missed my kids game or missed my family.’ They really get to see the fruits of their labor.”
Many Junior League members have families and more than 85 percent of the members also have jobs outside the home. It’s why in the days setting up for the event, members might be seen huddled over a laptop or taking calls on their phone in a quiet corner of Palmer, trying to work and volunteer at the same time.
The Austin chapter of Junior League is not what you might expect. Far from the “ladies who lunch” stereotype one associates with the name, the Austin League has adapted to its working-woman membership, hosting meetings and events over the lunch hour or in the evening. That evolution may be the reason the Austin League is thriving while others struggle to remain relevant. In 2018, the Austin League broke ground on its first-ever standalone headquarters, set to open next fall, and the League currently stands as the fifth largest in membership among the 290 worldwide.
Each year, A Christmas Affair raises close to $1 million for the Junior League Austin chapter, with that money funding its programs like Coats for Kids, benefiting Austin-area children, as well as its grant-making, which funds about 30 nonprofits each year. But the event is just as important for providing volunteer and leadership opportunities for League members.
Lindsey Crawford, this year’s event chair, says many of the volunteer learn new skills out of their experience. “These are skills they can use at work, skills they can use on their nonprofit boards,” she said. Crawford, who has been volunteering for Christmas Affair for six years, says the event has become part of her family’s experience. “I keep coming back because it’s important to show my children that, even though you have a job and a family, part of your obligation is to volunteer. I grew up in Austin,” she added. “This is our community, and we need to be a part of the solution.”