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Season for Caring: Families need to feel your love this season

Deloris Fields couldn’t wait to be a mother. The 26-year-old had survived breast cancer and was anticipating a new life when she gave birth to son Connor last December on her birthday. The next day, tests revealed that the cancer was back, and this time it was in her bones.

Her wish this holiday season is to have better equipment to record video memories for Connor.

Jacob Rodriguez-Lopez, 26, is facing the holidays without his beloved wife, Adriana. Cervical cancer took her last August, leaving him to rebuild a life with his 4-year-old daughter, Emely.

He would love to start his own painting business to be able to better support Emely, who has Down syndrome.

Fields and Rodriguez-Lopez and their children are two of the families featured in the Austin American-Statesman’s 18th Season for Caring program, which kicks off on Thanksgiving.

Since the program began in 1999, Season for Caring has raised more than $9.7 million to help local nonprofit agencies provide basic needs such as rent, utilities, groceries, medical bills and transportation to families.

Each year, the Statesman’s editorial staff picks 12 families who have been nominated by a local nonprofit agency. We share their stories and their wish lists and invite readers and local businesses to become involved in lifting families out of poverty, helping them during a health crisis or giving a memorable holiday season to someone who might not make it to the next.

The featured families, who have all gone through extensive background checks, represent just some of the need in our community. The monetary donations and in-kind goods and services are given to their agencies to help these families first, and then additional donations go to help hundreds of other families in Central Texas.

Season for Caring donations become agencies’ emergency assistance funds for clients.

Lindsey Dickson, communications manager for Caritas of Austin, says Season for Caring allows Caritas to buy things such as strollers for refugee families that they would not be able to buy for themselves. Many of the families walk or ride buses with kids in tow to get around Austin.

“Our case managers are used to doing so much with so little,” Dickson says. “They had a hard time grasping the concept that funding was available.” Once they did, “It’s cool to see how excited they were. They knew clients desperately needed it.”

Sometimes, Caritas can grant a wish that goes beyond a basic need. One of the case managers was able to buy a plane ticket to fly a client to Michigan the day before his father died.

“Having Season for Caring raises the level of hope,” says Z Blair, a client coordinator at Care Communities, which supports people with cancer or HIV/AIDS. “We are able to lift the quality of life of several of our clients. That wouldn’t be possible without the funds.”

Care Communities often uses the funds to pay past-due bills to prevent evictions, shutoff utilities or repossessed cars. Clients can instead focus on their health and medical treatments.

“It makes our life so much better,” Blair says of her fellow case managers. “It makes us all feel like we’re part of one community and that is a community that takes care of one another.”

Cacki Young, special housing programs coordinator for Foundation Communities, says her agency doesn’t have a lot of access to funds for direct assistance for clients. Season for Caring gives that to them, but it also lets people know what Foundation Communities does — provide low-income housing, access to health care, tax preparation services, English as a second language classes and more. During Season for Caring, donors will call up and say, ” ‘I’ve never heard of you before,’” she says. “We’re an organization that flies under the radar.”

It always comes back to the featured families, their stories and their needs.

“It helped us help a lot of women,” says Rae Anne Evans, executive director of Breast Cancer Resource Center. The campaign also helped BCRC’s featured family last year in ways they could not have imagined because the community rallied around them, she says. “Had there not been Season for Caring, they would have been on the street.”

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