MaryAnne Malicki's class at Lake Pointe Elementary School in the Lake Travis school district has never met Ernest Kimble, yet the fifth-graders worked extra chores, collected their pennies and raised $821.72 to help him.
It's the fourth year the class has donated money to help someone featured in the Statesman Season for Caring program. They also sent cards of encouragement to him through Community Action Inc., which nominated him for the program.
Kimble, 53, touched many Statesman readers. He had been working for more than 30 years at a Burger King in San Marcos and living in a motel that had roaches. His shoes were worn from walking along Interstate 35 each day to get to work.
Readers showed up in big ways to help him and the other 11 featured families in the 20th Season for Caring program, as well as hundreds of other families served by the selected local nonprofit organizations.
The 2018 Season for Caring raised $714,667 in monetary donations and $318,922 in gifts of goods and services for a total of $1,033,589. It was the second-best year and the second time Season for Caring has raised more than $1 million. Since 1999, Season for Caring has given more than $12.7 million to local nonprofit organizations.
For Kimble, being part of Season for Caring meant that he was able to move into an apartment just before Christmas using donations from two readers to pay his rent for the year. He and the other Season for Caring families sleep on new beds from Factory Mattress. He has a kitchen to prepare meals and a place to wash his clothes. The apartment complex, which is for seniors, means that he now has meaningful contact with people.
"I’ve talked to more people since I’ve been here than I ever talked to over there” at the motel, he said, on the day he moved in. When he saw all those people lined up to meet him, “I was breathless.”
One of the best things Season for Caring does for the featured families is to let them know that they are not alone. Two families were facing the first Christmas without mom last year. Basil Seals, 42, just wanted daughters Sabrina, 18, and Beth, 16, to have a Christmas after their mother died in November from cervical cancer. Reader Frances Thompson and her daughter, Dorothy, took the girls' Christmas wish list and completed everything they could find. The family's agency, CareBox Program, which helps provide needed supplies to people with cancer, was able to use Season for Caring funds to pay off many of the family's medical bills as well as buy a gently used car for Basil.
For Kevin Duroy, 39, and his children, Jayme, 12, and Layton, 9, Christmas came within days of what would have been mom Trisha's 43rd birthday. She died in June from cervical cancer. Grisham Middle School was determined to give them a Christmas to remember. They collected more than $10,000 worth of gifts and gift cards to help with Christmas and beyond.
Many of the items were bought for the new home the family is building in Buchanan Dam after living in a recreational vehicle while they dealt with medical bills from Trisha's illness. The Duroys have now been able to purchase the land, and through Season for Caring, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry's Austin chapter is helping them get electricity hooked up on the property and a design for the barndominium house. Some of the gifts, however, will not make it to the new home. Just before Christmas, someone broke into the agency's storage unit and took some of the items. Duroy told his agency that whoever did it must have needed those things more than they did.
Season for Caring money also helped move Jennifer Tate, 47, and her son, Brennan, 7, out of a recreational vehicle and into a home, and donations helped furnish that home.
For the Murorunkwere family, they soon will be leaving an apartment complex for people who have experienced domestic violence and moving into new apartments using Season for Caring funds. The family, which came from a refugee camp in Rwanda in 2016, experienced an amazing surprise from Amplify Credit Union when they were given two gently used cars, computers for the kids and other household items.
Many of the featured families needed major home repairs. Annie Colson, 81, and her son Earl, 58, who uses a wheelchair after a stroke, will have an accessible bathroom from Simply Sold in spring. Sanders Roofing & Exterior and Austin Pro Construction are working on redoing the exterior of the house, from roof to windows to siding.
Michael Gomez, 52, who is a double amputee, will soon see the bottom floor of his Pflugerville home transformed by a remodel from CG&S Design-Build. He's been using a garden hose to shower, and soon he will have an accessible bathroom.
Charles Simpson, 77, and Diana Simpson, 67, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January, struggle with congestive heart failure and decreased mobility after a car accident a decade ago. Their home, which flooded in the 2015 Halloween rains, has had many repairs, including new floors from Apex Home Maintenance, plumbing from ABC Home & Commercial Services, and electrical from Jon Wells.
Keith Desilets, 41, was embraced by the Westwood High School community, where he works as a groundskeeper. The man with cerebral palsy and developmental delays was given a new garage door from Precision Garage Door of Austin, a new air conditioner from Service Wizard Air Conditioning & Heat and the Osgood Family, and car repairs from Colvin Automotive.
Three other families asked for help with education and more financial security. Mirtha Lugo, 53, has been taking financial planning classes and English as a second language classes and will take sewing and computer classes with Suzann Madeley, who volunteered after reading Lugo's story. Season for Caring funds also have allowed Lugo to spend more time at home with her daughters because of the additional rent assistance.
Diana Castro, 50, worried that she would not be able to keep son Noah, 20, in school at Gallaudet University while caring for son Marc, 9, who has leukemia, and working three jobs. Reader Elizabeth Harris connected with her friends and raised $6,325 to keep Noah in school.
The Haroun family, who came from Iraq in 2014, now sit around a new dining room table big enough and comfortable enough for them all. Once daughter Sara, 3, is in school, mom Bushra, 46, will be able to get the job training she needs to better support the family.
Many large donations also helped all the families. The Sheth family matched $100,000 in donations for the first two weeks of the program. Whataburger gave a $25,000 check. P. Terry's Burger Stands donated a day's worth of profits — $36,052 — to the program. Capital Area Dental Foundation made sure all the families had dental care. Factory Mattress donated $20,000 worth of beds to the families. Firehouse Animal Health Center gave $10,000 worth of vet care to the families' animals. Driskill Hotel's Cookies for Caring raised $11,382 through people buying tins of cookies filled with local bakeries' treats.
Season for Caring truly is one person reaching out to another person, writing a check from the heart, donating a service they can perform, letting people throughout Central Texas know that they are not alone during the holidays and all year long.