GivingCity Spotlight

12 ways to give back in Austin this holiday season

12 ways to give back in Austin this holiday season

Christmas decorations
GivingCity provides a list of where to donate in Austin this holiday season. Photo by Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia Commons

There are more than a dozen opportunities to give gifts to fellow Austinites who truly need your help. Below, GivingCity's Monica Williams provides a full list of sponsor a family opportunities and local toy drives that offer a variety of opportunities for families, companies, organizations and individuals to give back this holiday season.

Austin Children’s Service “Project Santa”
Who they serve: ACS serves families in their time of biggest need. 
What they need: Gift cards and new items only. Please keep in mind that these are families and children who are escaping abuse and neglect. There are certain toys that are not appropriate.
How: ACS lets you give cash or gift cards, but you can also donate toys in general and/or fulfill a child’s wish list.
When they need it: Deadlines for donations vary.

CASA of Travis County Holiday Toy Drive
Who they serve: More than 1,000 children spending the holidays in foster care away from their family.
What they need: $30 Target and Walmart gift cards and cash donations for the Toy Drive.
How: Some of the children have requests for specific items, but the opportunities to fulfill those wishes are often taken. You can still give the children gift cards.
When they need it: December 3.

Texas Advocacy Project Holiday Wishes
Who they serve: Provides free legal services statewide to victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
What they need: Gifts for mothers and their children, based on the family’s wish list.
How: Visit the website and use the online “adopt a family” tool, browse the families and their wish lists, and register to give one or more of the gifts. 
When they need it: Gifts must be delivered by December 5.

Foundation Communities Holiday Assistance
Who they serve: Foundation Communities provides affordable housing communities for families across Austin.
What they need: New gift items like gift cards, toys, household supplies, sports equipment and more.
How: Complete a form online to sponsor a family or make an appointment to drop off gift items.
When they need it: If you’d like to sponsor a family, you must complete a form by December 5. To just drop off donated items, please make an appointment from December 3-11 during normal business hours.

Orange Santa
Who they serve:
 University of Texas at Austin employees and their families with special needs over the holidays.
What they need: Anything kids would like and babies would need. Unwrapped, please.
How: Choose items from the long list of suggestions and drop them off at an on-campus collection station. These items are then shelved at the program’s Holiday Store, where parents in need can “shop” for gifts.
When they need it: Drop off by December 5.

SafePlace Holiday Program
Who they serve: Adults and children who are victims of domestic violence.
What they need: Items off clients’ wish lists, usually for young children and mothers.
How: Sign up online at and SafePlace will be matching people to their families on a rolling basis until the final day, December 8. As soon as you are matched to a family, you will receive an email with their family’s wishlist. Then take gifts to the SafePlace Resource Center Community Room December 12-16.
When they need it: Sign up deadline is December 8.

Lifeworks Project Holiday Help
Who they serve:
 Youth and young families seeking to build a path to self-sufficiency.
What they need: Gifts for the youth and families.
How: The online process walks you through choosing whether you want to help a single youth or a young family, gives you an estimate of how much you’ll spend on each ($75 – $250) and even when you’d like to drop the item off. You can also sign up to give gift cards and backpacks to incoming clients.
When they need it: Wrapped and labeled gifts dropped off to LifeWorks December 12-14.

Saint Louise House Home for the Holidays
Who they serve:
 Provides safe and supportive housing for homeless women and children.
What they need: Gifts from the families’ wish lists. This is an “adopt a family” opportunity.
How: Contact Mindy Heredia at 512-302-0027 ext. 17.
When they need it: New, wrapped gifts and gift cards delivered by December 10.

Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program
Who they serve: Disadvantaged families in Travis and Williamson Counties.
What they need: Gifts that fulfill wish lists.
How: Find an Angel Tree at malls and other locations around Austin or go online and “pull” an angel from the website. Last year, 200 companies and organizations helped fulfill the gift requests of more than 4,000 Angels. The remaining 2,800 Angels were adopted from Mall Angel Trees and the online Angel Tree. 
When they need it: Bring your gifts to a designated mall by December 13. You can also bring the gifts to the “Christmas Cheer Center” on South Congress Avenue.

Partnerships for Children Holiday Wishes
Who they serve:
 Children in the care of Child Protective Services.
What they need: Donations, child sponsorships or general gifts of toys.
How: Make a donation online and they’ll shop for you, or sponsor a child. You can also attend the GivingCity Pop-Up Toy Drive on December 2 benefiting Partnerships for Children.
When they need it: Gifts must be turned in or picked up by December 11.

Any Baby Can Wish List
Who they serve: Impoverished children and their families.
What they need: Baby items, nursery equipment and furniture, arts and crafts supplies for preschoolers.
How: Shop for the items via the online wish list.

Operation Blue Santa
Who they serve: They provide food and toys for about 5,000 families in need.
What they need: People to adopt families and give them items they need.
How: To adopt a family, complete an online form. Blue Santa will let you select the family you wish to adopt and then you contact that family by phone, asking them about their needs. You give as much as you can. Then you make arrangements with the family to deliver to their home. You can also donate cash or unwrapped toys at APD Stations across Austin.
When they need it: Registration will open soon.

Giving guidelines:

  • 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.
  • Enlist family, co-workers, etc. Sponsoring a family is more fun 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. If that’s important to you, consider getting involved in the Operation Blue Santa project.
  • 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) and toys that don’t require the Internet.
  • Give wrapping paper and batteries. Consider donating wrapping paper if they ask for unwrapped gifts and batteries for all those gifts that need them.
  • Give cash. No time for shopping? Many of the organizations can buy at special prices and make your dollar go further.

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The original version of this article appeared on GivingCityAustin.com