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Christmas Gift Alternatives

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In the true spirit of Christmas, Austin Woman offers four ways to support the Austin community during the holiday season.

By Lydia Gregovic

We’ve all been there: Struggling to find parking at an overcrowded mall Dec. 24, gift list clenched in hand. For many, the Christmas season brings with it images of long lines, expensive gifts and an endless to-do list, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. At their core, the holidays are a time for giving back, whether that be in the form of a traditional present or something else. So, if you’re looking for a way to skip the lines while supporting a terrific cause, we’ve got you covered with Austin Woman’s alternative gift guide, featuring four Austin-based charities.

Operation Blue Santa

Hosted by the Austin Police Department, this Christmas-centric charity is dedicated to supplying families in need with food and toys during the holiday season. Founded in 1972, the organization provides each sponsored family with a traditional holiday dinner, complete with a stuffed turkey, as well as wrapped gifts for the children. As it currently serves more than 5,000 Austinites, Operation Blue Santa relies on the help of citizen donors, who agree to “adopt” a family for the month of December. By allowing the adopters and adoptees an opportunity to form personal connections, Operation Blue Santa helps foster a sense of community and spread a little holiday cheer while doing so.

BookSpring

Born from a desire to close the literacy gap in Central Texas, BookSpring has been working to encourage a love of reading in low-income children for more than 30 years. Far from a book club, this charity is divided into three branches—BookSpringRx, BookSpringEd and BookSpringGo—which promote literacy through health-care services, the education system and the community, respectively. Although BookSpring accepts volunteers year-round, the holidays offer a perfect opportunity to get involved with the organization, whether that be for a month or for years to come. Sign up to be a community reader, assist a librarian with cataloging or simply donate. No matter what you choose, helping a child on his or her path to literacy is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Caritas of Austin

Dedicated to ending homelessness in the greater Austin area, Caritas of Austin offers everything from job-placement services to veteran assistance. Realizing that fighting homelessness requires a lot more than giving your spare change, Caritas approaches the issue from a holistic perspective, attempting not only to help homeless individuals find food and shelter, but also providing opportunities for education and employment training. With the holiday season already upon us, Caritas offers a Home for the Holidays program, which allows givers to donate to Caritas in the name of a special someone. Gifts range in price point and magnitude, starting at $10 (the price of four lunches) to more extensive gifts, such as $1,000 for rental assistance.  

Carrying Hope

When children enter the foster-care system, many carry with them only the clothes on their backs. Carrying Hope aims to provide kids like these with a more comfortable transition during this trying time, hence the creation of the Hope Pack program. Catering to children from infancy to adolescence, the packs contain a combination of essential items, including deodorant and baby formula, and non-necessities, like stuffed animals and pajamas. The organization always accepts donations (It costs about $100 to make one Hope Pack.), but during the holidays, the group offers extra volunteer opportunities. Whether you’re making a holiday-themed Hope Pack, complete with slippers and hot chocolate, or purchasing stocking stuffers, Carrying Hope is a wonderful way to support children during one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives.  

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