Viewpoints: ‘Tis season for new traditions, helping neighbors in need

Traditions this time of year are bountiful. Trimming Christmas trees, lighting the menorah, watching holiday films, and exchanging gifts are some of the many familiar rituals of the holiday season.

Since 1999, one of our favorite traditions — and that of many Central Texans — is giving to Season for Caring, the American-Statesman’s annual charity campaign. Through their donations, readers help hundreds of our neighbors who could use our support.

Season for Caring helps bring families in need the basics, such as food, shelter and clothing. It helps people get the medical and dental services they need, or the job training and college tuition assistance that can help turn around their lives. Through generous donations, Season for Caring delivers hope for those who need it most. And every day, Central Texans get to read all about the impact made by those gifts.

HOW TO HELP: Click here to send donations during the Statesman’s annual service campaign.

It all starts with the Statesman stories on the needs of 12 families nominated by local nonprofits. Through those stories, we learn about people like Nikki Jones, a 35-year-old mother who has a crippling rare immune disorder and is preparing her 6-year-old child, Adeline, for a future without her.

And Gael Guadalupe Gracia Garcia, 24, who has put his future on hold to be his father Marcelo’s caretaker. Marcelo, whose body is slowly wasting away, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Our stories also spotlight Sami Khalil Ashour and his family, Syrian refugees who escaped a brutal, oppressive country and are now adjusting to new lives in Austin. Sami and his wife live with their five children in a two-bedroom apartment and they need many items, including furniture and clothes for the children.

Hawa Hassan, 30, and her three children grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya. Hawa’s second child, Haji, 9, has muscular dystrophy and can no longer walk. He needs a wheelchair. The family needs furniture and clothes.

These are just some of the families featured in this year’s Season for Caring. We urge Central Texans to learn about them at and to help in whatever way possible.

Since its inception, the Statesman’s annual giving campaign has raised more than $10.5 million — including last year’s $840,000 — in cash and donations of in-kind goods and services. Monetary donations do not go directly to families; instead, contributions go to the sponsoring agencies that ensure that families get the items they have identified as needed. Common in-kind goods and services needed include home repairs, cars, furniture, toys, wheelchairs, appliances, computers, gift cards, legal services, tutoring, mentors and family trips.

MEET THE FAMILIES: See how your donations could make a difference for those who are struggling.

Seeing the direct results of their giving in daily issues of the Statesman has helped turn Season for Caring into a tradition for hundreds of young and young-at-heart readers. Take for instance public school students like those at Grisham Middle School and Lake Pointe Elementary School, who have raised money for the campaign since 2010 and 2015, respectively. Or members of Girl Scout troop 1124 who have given every year since 2009. Or local companies like P. Terry’s and Whataburger, which have raised tens of thousands of dollars since 2009 and 2011 respectively; or Factory Mattress, which has donated beds for Season for Caring families since 2010; or the many on fixed incomes who give $5 and $50 every year because they want to do their part to help.

Continuing their holiday ritual of helping boosting reader donations, the Sheth family has once again generously pledged up to $100,000 in matching donations for gifts made by Dec. 11. This is the third year the Austin family has donated to the program.

“Season for Caring has become a cherished tradition for our family because it enables members of our community to help each other,” the Sheth family wrote in an email recently. “That is how we forge stronger ties and more durable communities.”

You can make a difference, too. Ask your family and friends, your business, your church or community group to get involved. Businesses can encourage employees to adopt a family. From donating money to giving a new or gently used item to providing a service, there are many opportunities to help.

Money raised goes to help the featured families first. Remaining donations become emergency funds for partnering nonprofits to help hundreds of families throughout the year with basic assistance such as for rent, utilities, medications and groceries.

NEW DETAILS: Thanks to matching grant, Season for Caring seeing big numbers in first few days.

Readers who want to donate furniture, services or other goods can call the social service agency that is sponsoring a family.

The Statesman will provide daily campaign updates as wishes are fulfilled.

The needs in our community are many. Here’s a chance to be part of our tradition and to give these families a chance at happier days that last long after the holidays.

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