TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A program to provide a little Christmas cheer to families in need around central Texas has collected only a fraction of the applications it usually receives.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office Brown Santa typically attracts around 1,500 families who can benefit from extra gifts, books, puzzles and food around the holidays. This year, organizers say they’ve received fewer than 500 applications.
“I know the need’s out there, we just need people to just go and apply,” said Deputy Louis Moncivais, who’s worked with Brown Santa for 13 years of its 37-year history.
Brown Santa is similar to the Austin Police Department’s Blue Santa program, but it serves families all over Travis County, not just within city limits.
In order to apply, Moncivais said families need to go in person to one of five community centers, listed here, and fill out a form to receive holiday help. The deadline to apply is Monday, Dec. 3.
Organizers say they’re not sure why they’ve seen such a big drop-off this year, even though they’ve seen numbers of applications declining in recent years.
“I hope people are doing better, you know,” Moncivais said. “I hope people don’t need services like this. That’s the happy thought, but, you know, I’m sure there’s other people out there that just may not know about our program, they don’t know where to apply or how to apply, or maybe they don’t have means to go to apply.”
In a new move this year, Brown Santa brought applications to an affordable early childhood education center in east Austin to pass them out to parents there.
At least 17 families returned the applications.
“One of them just went like, ‘Oh my God, I was wondering, what was I going to do?'” said Shirley Brown, owner and director of Seek and Say Enrichment. “You know, she was really kind of sad. And most of them are saying, ‘We’re so grateful that we have this program, that we can get help.'”
The program is also helping the center itself, donating toys and educational materials. That will allow Brown to spend money she raised recently on a new playground instead.
But Brown Santa still has more to give, and Moncivais hopes more families apply by the Monday deadline.
“At one point, we had so many applications that we couldn’t even wrap all the gifts. We were just having to throw gifts in boxes and then just send them off like that,” he said. “But now, times have changed.”