"You think there is no kindness left, but being in this program, I’ve seen a lot of kindness," Catherine Swieter said when gifts started being delivered to her as part of the Statesman Season for Caring program.
The gifts included fresh flowers from Austin Flower Company and gift cards to restaurants and movie theaters for her and her husband, Eric, to go on a date.
Swieter had Parkinson‘s disease, kidney failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She died on Jan. 10 at age 65. She just wanted one last Christmas with Eric, and she wanted it to be special.
Central Texans made it special, and also made it special for 11 other families that were featured in the 21st Season for Caring program, as well as hundreds of others like them who are served by the nonprofit organizations that nominated the featured families.
Since Dec. 1, the program raised $1,046,517 in monetary donations and in-kind gifts of goods and services. It’s the third year the program has raised more than $1 million and is the second best year of monetary donations and the most in-kind donations. This year, $717,785 in monetary donations were made along with in-kind donations totaling $328,732. Since the program began in 1999, the community has given more than $13.7 million to local nonprofit organizations.
The nonprofit organizations will use donations throughout the year to help the featured families as well as help their other clients with basic needs such as housing, medical care, groceries and transportation.
This year the gifts came in many different ways. People came to the Driskill Hotel and filled their tins with signature baked goods as part of Cookies for Caring. That event raised, $8,190.
They lined up at P. Terry’s Burger Stand and Taco Ranch locations for the Giving Back Day that raised $39,227.27.
They gave heavily in the first two weeks during the Sheth family’s $100,000 match grant period.
An anonymous family gave laptops to every family and software to make sure every family had access to an education, language skills and career advancement.
Mohammad Karim, 35, a Rohingyan refugee from Myanmar, saw his children open up the laptops. His education stopped at age 12 after the government closed down schools for Rohingyan people. His wife Minatt, 27, never went to school. Their children Jannat, 7, and Hashim, 6, are in school and Mariyam, 2, is in preschool in Austin.
"I see my kids; it’s a very good life," he said, tearing up. They were nominated by Interfaith Action of Central Texas.
Each of the featured families received new beds from Factory Mattress, which totaled more than $25,000 worth of beds.
Any family members who didn‘t have dental care received free dental care from Capital Area Dental Foundation, about a $20,000 donation from local dentists.
Firehouse Animal Health Center gave $10,000 worth of care to Season for Caring families, which helped animals beyond just those owned by the featured families.
More businesses also came through. Whataburger kicked off the giving with a $25,000 donation. Waste Connections employees raised $16,000 to donate 200 bikes to local families, including 10 bikes to three of the Season for Caring families.
As 9-year-old Mosbah El Dosogi raced his new bike up and down the parking lot, he cheerfully shouted, "This is the best day ever!" His brother Mohammed, 7, and sisters Sajeda, 11, and Layal, 7, followed him. They were nominated by Caritas of Austin and came to the U.S. from Egypt, though their mother, Fatima Babikar, left Sudan as a teenager.
Sajeda and Layal also received new violins from KMFA and Austin Sound Waves. Austin Ukestra donated new ukuleles to the Hekmati children, who came here from Afghanistan. They were nominated by Interfaith Action of Central Texas.
Whole communities gave. Grisham Middle School raised more than $10,480 in gifts and donations for Kizzy Jackson, 39, and her family. The Jacksons, who were nominated by Communities In Schools of Central Texas, left Louisiana because of flooding. Clarence, 11, has autism and and Joseph, 10, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety.
Members of Body By Design Workout Room in Pflugerville also helped the Jacksons with furniture and gift cards.
A Girl Scout troop donated gift cards for Monica Beakley, 47, and her son Jakob, 19. Beakley has stage four lung cancer, and her son has a traumatic brain injury from a boating accident. They were nominated by Wonders & Worries, which helps kids of parents with a life-threatening illness.
After Beakley’s car was stolen, an anonymous donor helped buy a gently used 2016 Toyota Corolla for her.
It was the second anonymous car donation of the campaign. The Karim family received a 2010 Ford Focus to allow Minatt to take more English classes while Mohammad works in his new job as a taxi driver.
Sometimes the people who regularly surround the featured families finally understand what that family has been going through after reading their stories and rally to help them. Alicia Gonzales, 41, who is in her final semester of nursing school at Austin Community College so she can better support her three sons, received donations from her classmates before the semester exam. She was nominated by Capital IDEA.
Kevin Moreno, 26, who has kept his family away from homelessness by supporting them since he was 16, received donations from his co-workers at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation. He was nominated by Foundation Communities.
Earlier in the season, his family was treated to a night at the Driskill Hotel and the honor of lighting the Christmas tree.
"These are the surprises that life gives us," said Diamantina Pérez Gamez, Moreno’s grandmother who lives with the family. "I’m so grateful and thankful to God. (Kevin) deserves this."
A University of Texas instructor pledged $6,000 over the next four years to put toward Kevin Moreno’s education so he can go to college, which he had postponed to allow his younger brother to attend first.
Lawyers also stepped up to help Season for Caring families this year. Gonzales is getting help with her divorce from lawyer Caroline Badinelli. Austin musician Eden Welply, who was hit by a car while walking to class at Texas State University a year ago, is getting help from FVF Law to try to negotiate a settlement for her care.
She was recently able to come home from a rehabilitation center in Houston and is becoming stronger, but she has a long road to independence. Frank Curry helped to make her home smarter with voice-activated controls. Welply was nominated by Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.
Amina Makamba, 34, and her triplet 3-year-olds were treated to a membership to the YMCA as well as swim lessons. Makamba came to Austin from Congo, where she left her husband and two sons. She was nominated by Foundation Communities.
Two families have big things happening this year thanks to donors. The Overton family, which has two kids with a rare blood disorder and two kids with a malformation that affects their brains, will receive home repairs from Simply Sold. The Overtons were nominated by Any Baby Can.
Velma Pace, 84, has her own health concerns, but is also caring for husband, Johnny, 82, and son Howard, 65, who has intellectual disabilities. CG&S Design-Build will be remodeling their home to make it more usable. They were nominated by Meals on Wheels Central Texas.
"I don’t know whether to cry or laugh," Velma Pace said about Season for Caring. "I’m so thankful, I really am. How thankful I am."