How to give with impact this holiday season in the Austin area

Austin

The marquee on Antone’s Nightclub in Austin reads “Support Local Non Profits” for Giving Tuesday. Photo Courtesy: Mia Albrecht.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As today marks Giving Tuesday, a globally-celebrated day of generosity, many people are considering the ways they can give to their community. Plenty of organizations in the Austin area are also asking for extra assistance during this particular day and the entire holiday season.

KXAN spoke with multiple Austin-area organizations about how to make the greatest impact on your community with whatever it is you decide to give this year.

I Live Here I Give Here, a nonprofit that promotes philanthropy and giving back in Central Texas, emphasized to KXAN “every gift, no matter the size, truly makes a difference.”

Give local

Jenifer Akagi, and a friend deliver food to a local food pantry as part of the “Generosity Now” social media challenge asking people to share how they give back using #ILiveHereIGiveHere. (Photo: I Live Here I Give Here)

Stacey Ingram Kaleh with I Live Here I Give Here, made the case for giving back to local organizations.

“Central Texas nonprofits are facing urgent need due to COVID-19,” Ingram Kaleh said. “While need has increased, resources have decreased, and nonprofits are working around the clock to step up and meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our community.”

“We’re asking community members to give to local nonprofits today to ensure they can continue to make Central Texas the place we all love to live far beyond this pandemic. “

Stacey Ingram Kaleh, I Live Here I Give Here

The nonprofit explained there are many ways to get involved with giving back to these local organizations, including:

  • Search through more than 700 local nonprofits at AmplifyATX.org, and make a donation
  • Set up recurring monthly donations at AmplifyATX.org so that organizations can count on your support over time. 
  • Set up a virtual fundraiser for your cause at AmplifyATX.org.
  • Volunteer virtually
  • Tell your friends and family about the causes you love on social media using #ILiveHereIGiveHere to spread the word.
  • Organize a food, clothing or supply drive from home.
  • Fulfill a nonprofit wish list.
  • Make a donation in honor of someone you love for the holidays.
  • Perform acts of kindness for your neighbors.
  • Donate blood and plasma with We Are Blood.
  • Support local musicians and venues facing hard times through BandTogetherATX with the Red River Cultural District.
  • Talk about the importance of generosity with your kids over the dinner table.

David Smith, CEO of United Way for the Greater Austin Area, echoed those calls for Austinites to consider ways they can give back in their own community.

The marquee at the Austin Motel reads “Live Here Give Here” as a sign of support for Giving Tuesday in Austin and I Live Here I Give Here. (Photo: Mia Albrecht)

“The need has only increased this year with COVID and with the pandemic,” Smith said. “With so many in need and hundreds of thousands experiencing hardship for the first time, we need to step up and support our local nonprofits.”

United Way is a nonprofit that supports other Austin-area nonprofits with a focus on education, skills training, housing, and other kinds of community supports. Smith explained United Way’s navigation center that can be reached by dialing 2-1-1 typically receives 300,000 calls per year, but during the pandemic, the numbers of calls to that line have more than doubled, with many of the callers reaching out for help in ways they’ve never had to before.

The callers to the 2-1-1 line are often asking for things like rent assistance, utility assistance or food.

“There are unfortunately a growing number of people right here in our community who don’t feel secure in those areas and don’t have the money they need to pay their rent, to make sure they have enough food, to pay their utilities,” Smith said.

“And that’s where we come in and invest in these organizations that make sure that they are put out on the street and that they do have enough food,” he added.

Give from the heart

For those looking to make an impact this holiday season, Smith advises “give to a cause you’re passionate about, you know, really look at what is most important to you and where your passion is.”

For United Way, that focus and passion is in helping the Austin area fight poverty. But Smith understands different people may have different interests.

Celeste Quesada poses next to chalk for part of the “Generosity Now” social media challenge in Austin for I Live Here I Give here. (Photo: I Live Here I Give Here)

Gifts don’t have to be financial, he noted. If you don’t have dollars to donate, Smith advises you to call up a local nonprofit you care about and ask about what ways you might be able to help them.

For those looking to make an impact locally, the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department recommends volunteering or even mentoring small businesses and nonprofits with marketing strategies and best practices.

Do your homework

Smith noted its important to look into the organizations you’re considering contributing to, especially if you are not familiar with them.

“I would do a little investigating, I would make sure that those that you choose to possibly consider for a donation—go look at their annual report,” Smith advised.

“Go look at their 990 and just see how your dollars will make a difference,” he said. “See what they’re doing with dollars.”

Local organizations in need

KXAN spoke with multiple Austin area organizations about how the community could help them this holiday season. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of the different challenges and needs local groups are faced with.

Austin Disaster Relief Network

Volunteers at the Austin Disaster Relief Network headquarters assemble hygiene kits for disaster survivors in the Austin area. December 1, 2020. Photo Courtesy Austin Disaster Relief Network.

At the Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN) headquarters Tuesday, volunteers assembled 250 hygiene kits for disaster survivors in the Austin community. ADRN is a nonprofit made up of nearly 200 churches and thousands of trained volunteers who mobilize to help and rehouse disaster survivors in the Austin area.

Volunteers at the Austin Disaster Relief Network headquarters assemble hygiene kits for disaster survivors in the Austin area. December 1, 2020. Photo Courtesy Austin Disaster Relief Network.

Presently, ADRN says they need monetary donations, and they are aiming to raise $50,000 on Giving Tuesday, which will help them meet their goal of raising $620,000 by the end of the year.

“The Greater Austin community really came together to support our COVID-19 fund and we’re incredibly grateful – we were able to give out $388,000 in funds and in-kind donations like face masks and meals,” explained Kat Cannon, Marketing and Communications Director for ADRN. “But donations to support our infrastructure and general disaster responses came in lower than our needs this year. So we need the community’s help to continue equipping and mobilizing local churches to respond to disasters.”

Front Steps

A man experiencing homelessness in Austin received a blanket from Front Steps winter donation drive. (Photo Courtesy Front Steps).

Front Steps, the nonprofit that operates Austin’s Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) as well as several other programs related to ending homelessness, is focusing on their annual blanket donation drive as temperatures drop. Front Steps is seeking donations of specific types of large, sturdy blankets for people experiencing homelessness in Austin during the winter.

Amy Price with Front Steps noted that the nonprofit is accepting monetary donations as well, particularly as their clients see more need for rental assistance.

Stacks of blankets sent into Front Steps for their annual Winter blanket drive for people experiencing homelessness. Photo Courtesy Amy Price.

“A lot of the clients we have housed over the last 6 months work in the service industry,” Price explained, noting that many have been let go or furloughed as businesses made cuts.

Starting in March, Price said, Front Steps has seen an “an uptick individuals who are working with their case managers and doing everything right, but they’ve lost their income from their 15-20 hour a week service industry job.”

Right now, she said, many of the donations Front Steps receives are going toward their rental assistance fund to help people experiencing homelessness in those scenarios.

“We’ve worked really hard, and so have these individuals, to end their homelessness and we do not want them to fall [back into homelessness] because they were a couple of hundred dollars short for one month,” Price explained.

Central Texas Food Bank

A photo from Central Texas Food Bank.

The Central Texas Food Bank, a nonprofit that provides food to those in need across 21 Central Texas counties, said the best way to help their organization right now is through monetary donations.

“This gives us the flexibility to purchase exactly what we need for the current situation,” explained Paul Gaither, Marketing and Communications Director for Central Texas Food Bank.

Gaither noted that those who would like to donate can go to the nonprofit’s website, where they can also start their own virtual food drive with friends, family, or coworkers.

“We’re experiencing unprecedented need for our services,” Gaither said.

A photo from Central Texas Food Bank.

“The holiday season is always a time of high need, but the pandemic has pushed the demand to unprecedented levels,” he added, noting that as the COVID-19 numbers in the region increased in recent weeks, the food bank has seen demand climbing as well.

In October, Central Texas Food Bank served approximately 113,776 households which means more than 343,969 individuals were served. The food bank expects the number of households served in November will be 25% higher than the number in October.

Hill Country Community Ministries

Hill Country Community Ministries is a nonprofit that offers a food pantry and other services for those living in poverty in southwest Williamson and northwest Travis counties.

Tiesa Hollaway, the executive director for HCCM, said her nonprofit needs several types of donations right now: monetary, food, time, and talent. She explained that even a small contribution can go a long way with $25 providing up to 100 meals. HCCM is looking for volunteers who can help for either two or three-hour shifts once per week.

Texas State Representative John Bucy helps deliver food for Hill Country Community Ministries. Photo Courtesy HCCM.

“We always need volunteers, especially during the holidays when people want to spend time with their families,” Holloway said.

“And with COVID, HCCM lost about 85% of their volunteers/workforce due to age and restrictions,” she noted.

At monthly client visits, those in need receive at least 3 weeks of groceries from HCCM. Families can also visit HCCM’s Community Cupboard or one of their Fresh Food For All distribution sites.

In the past, HCCM typically got 60-65% of their food through donations. But with events being canceled and an increase in immediate need for food, HCCM has had to switch to purchase more food.

Foundation Communities

Foundation Communities is a nonprofit that provides affordable housing and support services to thousands of families and individuals, with sites both in Austin and North Texas.

A photo of the Foundation Communities team getting ready to distribute groceries at one of Foundation Communities’ affordable housing communities Photo Courtesy Foundation Communities.

During the pandemic, Foundation Communities said it has served more than 3,500 households with healthy, on-site food pantries.

The nonprofit is in the middle of its annual holiday giving program right now. While typically, Foundation Communities would ask supporters to sponsor their families during the holidays to buy and deliver gifts, this year, the nonprofit is asking for online donations.

Donna Poston Williams, the Director of Individual Giving and Engagement for Foundation Communities, said the nonprofit is in need of online donations to this Holiday Assistance Program because the online donations allow “us to buy/distribute gift cards so our families can shop online.”

“The pandemic has affected the entire world – but we know that some people have been hit harder than others,” Poston Williams said. “Many of the families that live at Foundation Communities work in industries that have temporarily closed or have cut back on their hours – resulting in lost wages.”

She explained that Foundation Communities set up an Emergency Assistance Fund, which the public can contribute to, in order to help people in those situations pay for rent, groceries, or other support services.

NAMI Central Texas

NAMI Central Texas, the local member organization for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, noted their organization has a $10,000 giving match for Giving Tuesday.

NAMI Central Texas volunteer Marcia Oakes is pictured leading a virtual parent training called “Let’s Talk: Starting the Mental Health Conversation with Your Teen” for Manor ISD. Photo Courtesy Karen Ranus.

Karen Ranus, the executive director of NAMI Central Texas, explained that because her organization’s programming is all virtual now, they are not in need of supplies but would “definitely benefit from financial support as well as people sharing our resources with others in the community.”

“Our mental health will continue to be impacted during this challenging time!” Ranus said.

She explained that NAMI Central Texas is having to rely heavily on its staff and a smaller pool of volunteers this year in order to make their programs happen. Volunteers have had to learn how to lead trainings and meet the needs of the community virtually.

“Our volunteers are AMAZING and we are so grateful for them,” Ranus said.

Austin Pets Alive!

Austin Pets Alive! (APA!) is a nonprofit in Austin which works to support ending the killing of companion animals and also operates a shelter in Austin.

Katera Berent, the Public Relations Manager for Austin Pets Alive!, with her now-adopted dog Joe. (Photo Courtesy Katera Berent).

Katera Berent, Public Relations Manager for APA!, said that as the year draws to a close, donations are most needed

“Donations help us continue to save those pets who need us most,” Berent said, noting the case of a sick puppy named Aiden with parvovirus who was treated in APA!’s Parvo Puppy ICU before going to a foster home.

Outside of the support from APA!, Berent explained that animals like Aiden also rely on the support of community members like the person who took him in as a foster. The human who fostered Aiden had already fostered 8 animals previously during the pandemic for APA!

“We have completely altered our day-to-day since the start of the pandemic, by reducing the amount of volunteers and staff onsite, moving teams into specific shifts, taking in cats and dogs from rescues and shelters who were forced to shutter due to the pandemic, and closing our shelters to walk-in traffic to operate on an appointment-basis,” Berent explained.

Photo Courtesy Austin Pets Alive!

APA! has also increased its intake of animals during 2020. The shelter reports saving more than 11,500 pets in 2020, which is 1,500 more than the shelter took in during the entirety of 2019.

With some of APA!’s shelter partners forced to shutter during the pandemic, APA! worked to take in additional pets. This increased intake has meant APA! is in need of monetary support and foster homes, Berent explained.

During the pandemic, fewer staff and volunteers can be on-site at APA!, which means the shelter has been relying more on foster homes.

KXAN will be updating this story this evening with more details about what specific types of contributions Austin organizations say they need right now.

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