Season for Caring raises more than $1.5 million for Austin nonprofits

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Nicole Villalpando   | Austin American-Statesman Season_for_Caring_2020 The 22nd Season for Caring program features 12 families from 12 Austin nonprofit organizations Nicole Villalpando, Austin American-Statesman “We’re in love,” said Velma Meredith, 64. Her living room in Elgin is now filled with new furniture from Austin’s Couch Potatoes.  She and husband, Cline, […]

Nicole Villalpando
| Austin American-Statesman


“We’re in love,” said Velma Meredith, 64.

Her living room in Elgin is now filled with new furniture from Austin’s Couch Potatoes.  She and husband, Cline, 67, can sit comfortably in oversized recliners and a new couch.

Cline, who has kidney cancer that has advanced to his brain, can now rest easily in one of the recliners, on the couch or in a new bed provided by Factory Mattress.

The Merediths and the two teenage grandsons they are raising can gather around a new kitchen table with new chairs that haven’t had to be reinforced with extra screws and bolts to keep them together.

Read more: Season for Caring’s 2020 program

Read more: Meet the 2020 Season for Caring families

Before the Merediths became part of the Statesman Season for Caring program in November, Cline had an open wound in the back of his head that wasn’t healing because he slept on an uncomfortable couch with a spring that poked at the back of his head. Their previous bed was uncomfortable and easy for Cline to fall out of. 

The family never had had a new bed or a new piece of furniture. “They’ve just been passed down,” Velma Meredith said when their new beds arrived in November.

After Cline Meredith came home recently from another surgery to his brain, Velma wrote in an email to Wonders & Worries, the local nonprofit that nominated them to the Season for Caring program: “He will never get out of his recliner now, but I am so thankful he has it to rest in. You all are a true blessing to my family.”

Season for Caring, the Statesman’s annual charity program, has been a blessing to the 12 featured families and local agencies that were part of the 2020 program. And it will continue to be a blessing throughout the year to hundreds of other families served by its nonprofit agency partners: Any Baby Can; Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin Area; Caritas of Austin; Family Eldercare; Foundation Communities; Health Alliance for Austin Musicians; Hospice Austin; Interfaith Action of Central Texas; Meals on Wheels Central Texas; SAFE Alliance; Salvation Army Austin; and Wonders & Worries.

The 2020 program raised $1,534,099, more than any year in the program’s 22-year history. That includes $145,899 in in-kind donations of goods and services and $1,388,200 in monetary donations. Since 1999, Season for Caring has given $15.2 million to local nonprofits throughout Central Texas. 

Three big monetary donations helped Season for Caring almost double the amount of monetary donations ever received. An anonymous donor gave a $400,000 donation to Season for Caring because the donor knew that the money would go to local nonprofit organizations to help families with basic needs throughout the year.  “I haven’t smiled like this since roughly March 13 of this year,” the donor wrote in an email acknowledging the gift.

The Sheth family offered a matching gift from Nov. 29 through Dec. 25 of up to $250,000, more than doubling their previous matching gifts of $100,000.

“The most meaningful gift our family can give is to increase the value of our community’s giving,” Brian Sheth wrote. “We want to inspire every member of the Austin family who can give to participate, as we are strongest when we all work together.”

Austin more than met that match, raising $402,000 during that time. 

Pat Munday doubled her gift for 2020, giving $100,000 to Season for Caring, in addition to other gifts to local nonprofit organizations. Munday is the widow of Bill Munday, who owned car dealerships in Austin and Houston before his death in 2018. 

Because of these monetary donations, each agency received between $103,000 and $123,000 in grants. The money differs between agencies because donors can designate their gifts for a specific family or agency or have it divided equally between the agencies. 

“What this will do for HAAM and musicians, it’s going to allow us to meet people immediately, right where they are,” said Reenie Collins, the chief executive officer at HAAM, when she learned in December about the anonymous donor’s $400,000 gift. “We are seeing more and more musicians who are asking for help in a way that they haven’t before. They literally still have no income.”

This level of giving comes after a year of need that agencies have not experienced before and with the expectation that 2021 will continue the unprecedented need among their clients because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The need is constant,” Simone Talma Flowers, IACT executive director, said at the beginning of the 2020 program. IACT works with many refugees who work in service industries. That has made them vulnerable to both job loss and being exposed to COVID-19.

“We’re trying so hard to keep people housed,” said Kelly White, co-chief executive director of SAFE Alliance. SAFE Alliance, which works with people who have experienced domestic violence, will be able to pay rents and utilities throughout the year for its clients using Season for Caring funds. 

Gifts came in big and small ways. P. Terry’s Burger Stand, which donated a day’s profits from all 18 P. Terry’s restaurants, raised $40,120, the most even in a single P. Terry’s Giving Back Day.

People bought Cookies for Caring tins from the Driskill hotel and raised $4,810. They went to movies at the Domain Northside and raised about $850. 

The coronavirus pandemic changed some of the ways the Season for Caring program worked. The program tried to encourage monetary donations or contactless donations of goods and services. The featured families turned their wish lists into online registries at Amazon, Target or Walmart. People shopped, and gifts arrived to the agencies for the families. 

To limit the amount of gently used furniture needing to be donated, Austin’s Couch Potatoes selected four families to donate new furniture to and offered new furniture at cost to the other eight featured families. Those families’ agencies then used Season for Caring funds to cover the costs. Austin’s Couch Potatoes donated about $16,000 in furniture. 

Factory Mattress, which has donated new beds to the 12 featured families since 2009, continued to be crucial in making sure all the featured families have new beds, donating almost $23,000 worth of mattresses, foundations and bed rails to the families. 

Capital Area Dental Foundation, which has been hit hard as dentists have had less people visiting their offices during the pandemic, continued to help provide dental care to Season for Caring families. All but one family has been matched to a dentist.

Firehouse Animal Health Center gave $10,000 worth of veterinary care to the families. That care included emergency surgery for Renee Milam’s puppy. Milam, who was nominated by Any Baby Can, said she would not have been able to afford the life-saving surgery. 

“I’m so thankful to everybody,” she said. 

Ja-Mar Roofing & Sheet Metal celebrated its 50th anniversary by creating the Keep Austin Roofed program to donate a new roof to a family each year. This year, they chose the Season for Caring family from HAAM, which will receive a new roof this spring. The Kemkaran family’s home needed some structural upgrades to support the new roof including new decking. A family from Georgetown donated the money needed for that work. 

Academy Sports and Outdoors gave $2,000 gift cards to four families to go shopping in its stores. Families stocked up on many basic supplies such as clothing, jackets and shoes. 

“I have to thank you guys,” James Roussett said as he and his family, who were nominated by the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin Area, were stocking up on clothing. “It’s going to help us out so much.”

The agencies will make sure that the featured families needs are met first. Then Season for Caring funds become the agencies’ emergency funds for all of their clients for things such as housing, medications and medical bills, groceries, clothing, and transportation.

For many of the agencies, Season for Caring is the only source of emergency funding for clients’ needs. 

“It’s that generosity that’s filling people with hope,” Talma Flowers said. “That’s what makes me so happy, so thankful, so appreciative. … Thank you to all the angels that live among us.” 

Nicole Villalpando is the editor of the Season for Caring program for the American-Statesman. She can be reached at [email protected].

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