A quartet of carolers from Austin Carolers sang "It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" as eager families stuffed tins with nearly a dozen picture-perfect pastry offerings that ranged from dulce de leche coconut macaroons to brown sugar coffee pecan cookies.
For Eugene Lau and his daughter, Kaleigh, 8, the Driskill Hotel’s Cookies for Caring event has become an annual tradition.
"The cookies are yummy, the girls love the cookies, and it’s for a great cause," Lau said.
Cookies for Caring, which started five years ago as a way to raise money for the Austin American-Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign, was the brainchild of Driskill pastry chef Tony Sansalone, who asked his friends in the baking world to each create a cookie to include in special tins sold at the Cookies for Caring fundraiser. Since its inception, the event has raised about $40,000 for Season for Caring.
"Really it’s all the people here that make it happen," Sansalone said as he looked around the cookie-filled Driskill Ballroom on Sunday at fellow chefs from companies including Cannon + Belle by Hilton Austin, Cedar Door, Courtyard Austin Pflugerville and Conference Center, Four Seasons Hotel Austin, Hyatt Regency Austin, Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, La Volpe, Omni Hotel Austin Downtown, Teddy V Patisserie and Word of Mouth Bakery.
"It’s a community, right? I’ve got all these different pastry chefs from all these different companies all within our city," Sansalone said. "It’s just about coming together and doing something good."
More than 200 tins were sold for $50 each at Sunday’s event, raising about $10,000 for Season for Caring in a single day. Ashley Hartert, director of sales and events at the Driskill, said the event pays tribute to a long tradition of bake sales in Austin.
"The origin of this event really started in 1969 when the hotel was threatened to be demolished and the community actually raised funds to help protect the hotel from being torn down. One of the ways they did it was through a bake sale," Hartert said. "We thought this was a fun way to flip that tradition and give back to the community that literally helped save us from demolition."
Each year, the Statesman picks about a dozen families nominated by local nonprofit organizations as part of the Season for Caring campaign. Money raised helps the featured families first but then helps hundreds of other families throughout the year through the nonprofit organizations. Since 1999, Season for Caring has raised more than $13 million for the community.
This year the money raised will go to help families like the Swieters. Catherine, 65, is in hospice care for Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Her husband Eric, 46, is facing life with out her. They need help with bus passes, clothing, twin bed sheets, and gift cards to H-E-B, Target or Walmart. To find out more about the Swieters or help fulfill one of their wishes, contact Hospice Austin at 512-342-4700, hospiceaustin.org.
Velma Pace, 83, is caring for husband Johnny, 82, and son Howard, 65. Johnny has dementia and Howard has developmental disabilities. The Pace family would like a new stove, dishwasher and refrigerator, MetroAccess passes, blinds and curtains, new bedding, new living room and dining room furniture, and gift cards to H-E-B and Walmart. To find out more about the Pace family, contact Meals on Wheels Central Texas at 512-476-6325, mealsonwheelscentraltexas.org.
Eden Welply, 25, was hit by a car as she was crossing the street to go to class last February. She is now quadriplegic and in a rehabilitation hospital in Houston, but hopes to return to Austin soon and be able to be more independent. She needs many things including a ramp, Lasik, AxioBionics wearable pain management therapy, skilled in-home nursing, music therapy, smart home installation, an adapted SUV or van or adaptations to her current car, a service animal, acupuncture, housekeeping services, gift cards to restaurants and movie theaters, and an Audible subscription. To find out more about Welply, contact the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), 512-541-4226 at myhaam.org.