Austin’s Wish List: GivingCity’s List of 2019 Austin Charitable Holiday Gift and Toy Drives

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.


  • 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 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 is given, but best before Christmas Day, December 25.

Carrying Hope
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.

CASA of Travis County Holiday Toy Drive
Who They Help: More than 1,000 children spending the holidays in foster care away from their families.
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

What did we miss this year? Please …

This Giving Tuesday, give local

We all know that Austin is one of the greatest cities in the world, and the holidays are one of the most magical times of year! It can also be a stark reminder that while many of us are thriving here, there are too many of us struggling just to make ends meet.

Too many are still making choices no one should ever have to make. Choices like: Should I buy groceries for the week or pay for my prescription? Should I pay my utility bill or buy my child a winter coat?

After sharing a delicious meal on Thanksgiving and some quality family time, Giving Tuesday, December 3, is your chance to give back to this community we call home. This Giving Tuesday is our big chance to make an impact for our neighbors, right here at home: Donate and let’s spread some cheer in our own backyard.

United Way for Greater Austin’s mission is to bring people, ideas, and resources together to fight poverty in our community. As CEO, there are two questions I hear more than any others: What exactly does United Way do? And where does the money go?

First: What do we do? We lift families out of poverty for good. Poverty is complex, and so is uprooting its generational patterns. Band-Aids simply won’t do it, which is why our focus is creating long-term solutions and changing systems that keep people from the opportunities we all enjoy.

Second: Where does the money go? Good question…simple answer. Right here. Every single dollar you give stays here to build opportunity for children and families here in Greater Austin. We invest in proven strategies with measurable results that work. And, here’s the best part: What lifts up one family, lifts up all of us!

I haven’t met all of the 47,000 people impacted by United Way’s programs, but I have met some of them and there is a single common thread shared among them all: Everyone just wants a chance. One gift in my life is meeting and knowing Cristina and her 2-year-old son Antonio. By investing in Jeremiah Program, we wrap their entire family in support, in this case by providing affordable housing and quality early childhood care for Antonio, giving Cristina a chance to get her education and setting her on course for the career of her dreams. I think Cristina captured the essence of why United Way exists when she said: “In three years we won’t need this anymore. Because of this program, we will no longer be here, but will have broken the cycle.”

‘Tis the season for giving, and so many need you to be a part of this poverty-fighting movement. When you donate to United Way for Greater Austin this Giving Tuesday, your dollars will be matched to make twice the impact! Your gift will stay here to build opportunity for families like

Cristina’s here in our Greater Austin community. Join the movement at

David C. Smith is CEO of United Way for Greater Austin and has been in executive nonprofit leadership for more than 25 years in Austin.

New home for KMFA to include studio named for Draylen Mason

On October 28, classical radio station KMFA announced its goal of completing a $13.5 million campaign to fund its new headquarters (right next door to the Consumer Mattress Guide HQ), a brand new building at a growing development called The Hatchery, just east of I-35, and add to its permanent endowment fund. The $10 million facility is likely the first of its kind for a classical radio station in that it incorporates sound studios viewable to the public and a performance hall. Though initial plans were more modest and called for the nonprofit to take over an old warehouse, an anonymous gift of $3 million and the path of Austin’s other public media organizations inspired KMFA to adopt a much bigger vision.

Included in that vision is a 135-seat performance hall, the centerpiece of the building, to be named for the late Draylen Mason, the 17-year-old musician who was the victim of the 2018 package bombings in Austin. Mason was a talented bassist who performed with Austin Soundwaves, the Austin Youth Orchestra, and a number of other orchestras. He had been admitted to music schools at UT-Austin, the University of North Texas, and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and had ambitions for fame, according to his mother who spoke at the October 28 news conference.

“His story did not end the day he left this earth,” said Shamika Wilson of her son, Mason, at the news conference. After her son’s death, Wilson was befriended by local arts philanthropist and daughter of Whataburger founders, Lynne Dobson, who, along with her husband Greg Wooldridge, will fund the performance hall. “I didn’t know how to help,” said Dobson at the news conference, “and I just thought she could use the kindness of a stranger.” As the friendship developed, Dobson said, she was inspired to honor Mason by funding the performance hall in his name. “His musical ambition was his legacy and will live on forever,” said Dobson.

According to Ann Hume Wilson, KMFA president and general manager, the path toward the new facility began with the simple fact that KMFA had outgrown its current location on N. Lamar. “We’ve been a tenant here for 42 years, and it’s just not meeting the needs of a modern media and tech organization,” said Hume Wilson. But a surprising, anonymous bequest of $3 million from a long-time listener kickstarted a more ambitious campaign. “It was absolutely amazing to us,” said Hume Wilson. “It provided the seed money that completely changed the way we were thinking about the project.”

Hume Wilson says the planning team was inspired by the direction of other local public media organizations like KUT, which opened its new studios and public performance space in 2012, and KLRU, which will move its headquarters and studios to the expansion space at ACC Highland in 2020. Those facilities include broadcast and recording studios as well as performance spaces open to the public.

KMFA’s new headquarters will include the Draylen Mason Music Hall along with broadcasting studios, hands-on learning areas, and viewing areas where visitors can peruse the station’s classical music libraries, one of the largest in the state. KMFA is currently $7.3 million into its $13.5 million goal.…