Giving back this holiday season

Eric Van Allen

Christmas is always a season of joy, peace, and most of all, presents. Everyone looks forward to what they may find from Santa under the tree Christmas morning, hoping it’s that new iPod or a Coach bag. But to other people, it also means a time to give back, and help some underprivileged families who are in need during the holiday season.

On November 29, several school organizations, including the Student Council and HOSA, participated in the Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade. What began as a small parade and toy drive in 1989 has grown into a large procession through downtown Austin, complete with floats, marching bands, and Santa himself. At designated spots on the parade route, the parade would halt and helpers would rove up and down the parade route, collecting toys from any passers-by who wish to donate to the cause. The toys were then sent to the local Blue Santa program, which will deliver the toys to children just in time for the holidays.

Some other community organizations are getting together to give back as well. St. Luke’s on the Lake Episcopal Church often holds several service projects during the holiday season, and this year the Youth Group is spending a Sunday at Brown Santa, a Travis County service program which takes donations of non-perishable foods and young children’s toys, and gives them to families in poverty or with financial problems.

The Youth Group at St. Luke’s has done many service projects in the past, but this one was a specific idea at the recommendation of another church member.

“One of our staff members took a group she was working with to volunteer there last year.” Merchant Buchanan, Youth Director at St. Luke’s, said. “She was very impressed with the program and the way the people she was volunteering with chose to stay beyond their designated time slot.”

The hope of both Brown Santa and the St. Luke’s team is that they will be able to spread joy and holiday cheer this season by doing simple acts of service such as wrapping gifts, sorting foods and making food boxes.

“There are people around us in need, and it is our duty to find ways to help them.” Buchanan said. “We want to provide them with these basics so that they remember that they are not all alone and they have support.”

This is the first year St. Luke’s will be working with Brown Santa although, it has been around since 1981. Though it started with a few Travis County deputies helping about 25 families, community support has grown this year and the program now hopes to help 1500 families.

Another long-standing program is lending a hand to the needy this season, but on a worldwide scale. Operation: Christmas Child is an operation founded in 1993. They take donations of simple leftover toys and gifts, pack them into shoeboxes, and send them to impoverished countries around the world, in some cases giving the children their very first Christmas present. Anyone can take an old shoebox, fill it with unwanted toys, and take it to a drop-off location. This is ideal for families with little time or money to donate. Operation: Christmas Child is a non-profit organization, only asking for monetary donations to help ship the shoeboxes around the world.

Many students and organizations are out there this season, helping those in need. But what can one do to help? Many programs, like the aforementioned Brown Santa, accept volunteers of any age to help pack goods or load pallets of foodstuffs. These organizations want volunteers to help give back to the community. All one has to do is give them a call and help spread the holiday cheer.