“It reminds me of ‘Home Alone 2,’” Ashley McGill says as she looks around the Cattle Baron Suite at the Driskill Hotel on Tuesday. That’s the movie in which Macaulay Caulkin’s character is stranded in New York City and has the run of the Plaza Hotel. “Everything is so pretty.”
McGill, her daughter, Alyanna, 10, and son, Preston, 6, and her mother, Glenda, were given the royal treatment for a night at the Driskill when they were the honored guests to light the hotel’s Christmas tree. It was an early birthday present for McGill, who turned 41 on Wednesday.
The McGills are part of the Statesman Season for Caring program, which each year features 12 families who have been nominated by local nonprofits to represent the needs in our community. The McGills were nominated by Wonders & Worries.
This is the second year the Driskill has invited a Season for Caring family to light the Christmas tree. It’s also the second year the Driskill will raise money for Season for Caring through its Cookies for Caring event.
On Dec. 11, attendees can fill tins with cookies baked by Austin area pastry chefs at a modern Christmas cookie swap. This year, chefs from the Driskill’s 1886 Cafe & Bakery, Whole Foods, Four Seasons Austin, Hilton Austin, the University of Texas Golf Club, Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill, Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa, Blackbird Bakery, Bribery Bakery, Parkside and Hyatt Regency Austin are participating.
Each tin is $35 and must be purchased ahead of time online at driskillhotel.com. Last year, 200 tins sold out days before the event. The Driskill has increased the number of available tins to 300 and moved the event to the ballroom, which is bigger than last year’s space. This year Austin Carolers will sing as well. The Driskill hopes to raise $8,000 for Season for Caring, which would double last year’s donation.
Raising money for the community through cookies seemed like the right fit for the hotel that was going to be demolished in 1969 until a bake sale and $10 shares sold to the community saved the hotel. The hotel will celebrate its 130th birthday with festivities on Dec. 20.
For the McGills, the magic of the Driskill was apparent as they got a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen from pastry chef Tony Sansalone. They learned how he made gingerbread men that hang along Cafe 1886 & Bakery during the holiday season. They dipped strawberries in chocolate and toppings for later that night, and they tasted salted chocolate cake balls. McGill, who loves to bake, got pointers on how to make cake balls, something she’s always wanted to try.
The family had plans for a relaxing evening with room service provided by the Driskill, a luxurious soak in the large bathtub for McGill, homework done at the handsome desk for Alyanna, and a good night’s sleep in the comfy beds Alyanna and Preston tried out.
The Driskill will continue to be part of the McGills’ lives. Executive Chef Troy Knapp has offered to teach Preston how to play the guitar.
For the McGills, this was a decadent break from what their lives have been like since January 2015, when their car was rear-ended. McGill has had crippling headaches, surgeries to try to relieve pain and recently a seizure. She had to leave her job as a medical assistant at ’Specially for Children and is now on long-term disability.
The family became homeless and has had to rely on family, friends and a church to pay rent. Along with help with medical bills, utilities, rent and car repairs, they would love to have living room furniture, a computer, a printer, a standing freezer, a shower chair, remote-control cars and sports balls for Preston and art supplies and books for Alyanna. They also would like gift certificates for family outings, and Preston needs new glasses and a guitar for his lessons.
To find out more about the McGill family or to donate an item on their wish list, contact Wonders & Worries, 512-329-5757 or go to wondersandworries.org.
Cookies for Caring
When: 1-3 p.m. Dec. 11
Where: Driskill Hotel ballroom, 604 Brazos St.
Tickets: $35 tin purchased at driskillhotel.com
Season for Caring
• To make a donation to Season for Caring, go online to statesman.com/seasonforcaring.
• Find more stories, videos and photos of all the families at statesman.com/seasonforcaring.