Season for Caring begins with $250,000 matching grant from Sheth family
The need Central Texas families have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic has been like nothing local nonprofit organizations have ever experienced.
“The need is constant,” said Simone Talma Flowers, executive director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas, which works with refugees.
The Statesman’s Season for Caring program starts its 22nd year at a crucial time as initial emergency funding sources for organizations have been spent, and clients’ unemployment benefits, if they had them, have run out.
Knowing that the need in Central Texas has become so great in 2020, the Sheth family is offering a $250,000 matching grant to any monetary donation made to Season for Caring from now through Christmas Day.
Since 2016, the Austin family has offered an annual $100,000 matching grant, but this year they wanted to increase it.
“This year, more than ever, it's important to stand together as a community and help those most in need,” said Brian Sheth, a local leader in business, philanthropy and private equity, of his and wife Adria’s gift. “The most meaningful gift our family can give is to increase the value of our community's giving. For this Season for Caring, Adria and I are more than doubling our gift commitment, matching up to $250,000 in donations. We want to inspire every member of the Austin family who can give to participate, as we are strongest when we all work together.”
Since 1999, Season for Caring has given more than $13.7 million in grants to local organizations by highlighting the stories of some of the people they serve. Each year, the program chooses 12 families nominated by reputable nonprofit organizations and asks the community to give both in-kind donations and monetary donations.
For the selected families, “it’s this great way of giving families this boost,” Flowers said.
Season for Caring provides the community with a way to understand what clients are experiencing, said Jo Kathryn Quinn, president and chief executive officer of Caritas of Austin, which focuses on homelessness. “The way the community responds to Season for Caring is so inspiring.”
After the highlighted families’ needs are met, the agencies use the rest of the money for their other clients throughout the year for such basic needs as rent, food, medications, utilities and transportation.
Season for Caring “fills a big void for us,” said Veronda Durden, president and chief executive director of Any Baby Can, which provides early intervention support for families. “Without the support, serious needs would have been unmet.”
When the pandemic began, organizations that were part of last year’s Statesman Season for Caring program had access instantly to money already allotted for emergency assistance for clients’ needs.
“It would have been a very extremely stressful year (without Season for Caring funds),” Flowers said. “Having the funds that were already there took the pressure off. We can help. We can help.”
Flowers said iACT has been “paying rent nonstop.” Still, it has not been enough. “We’re always behind,” she said, noting that by mid-November the group had already spent what it had allocated for that quarter, with half a quarter to go.
This year at Caritas, the challenges clients face are greater, which requires more money, Quinn said.
“Some of our clients are in programs where they eventually roll off of the caseload, but they have not been able to roll off,” Quinn said. “They were working in the service industry when that came to a halt. Almost all of them lost their jobs, and we were back at square one.”
Families who had never asked for help before have sought assistance with rent and other basic needs, Durden said: “Many families are hurting right now.”
At SAFE Alliance, which focuses on ending abuse, Kelly White, co-chief executive director, said the organization has “been hit with so many different things with COVID.” At its children’s shelter, the nonprofit had to suddenly home-school 90 kids. With school closed, it also had to feed more meals to them.
SAFE Alliance’s family programs are helping with food, utilities and rent as many of those clients have lost their jobs in hotels and restaurants. “We’re trying so hard to keep people housed,” White said.
At Family Eldercare, social isolation of its clients has been a big concern, said Chief Executive Director Kent Herring. Many clients no longer have access to computers because the computer rooms in their senior housing apartments are closed, as are libraries. They might not have access to the internet or to a smartphone.
With medical services and client services being done by teleconference, it becomes difficult for clients’ needs to be met.
IACT also has experienced the technology divide. Not only do clients need computers, tablets and Wi-Fi hot spots, they also need someone to teach them how to use it, Flowers said.
“The tech support is something we see ourselves spending more money on,” she said.
Local nonprofit organizations are bracing for a difficult 2021. At Foundation Communities, which provides affordable housing, Executive Director Walter Moreau has built a budget that has triple the amount of emergency assistance for 2021 than a pre-pandemic budget. Typically Season for Caring grants make up about a third of that money.
Quinn said that Caritas is budgeting “very conservatively.”
“We don’t know what’s going to happen to the economy,” Quinn said. “We could have a dangerous combination of less resources because of a struggling economy and more need because people are losing their housing.”
The 12 organizations in this year’s Season for Caring program hope that the community comes through again.
“Austin is really generous,” Moreau said, but we also have “lots of people who are suffering.”
More Season for Caring.
• Read the stories of the 12 featured families, D1.
• Find more stories: statesman.com/seasonforcaring.
• Follow Statesman Season for Caring on Facebook and Twitter @seasonforcaring.
• To donate, go to statesman.com/seasonforcaring or see Page D6 for a donation coupon.
Donating in a pandemic
The best way to give to Season for Caring is through a monetary donation, especially now through Christmas during the Sheth family matching grant period. You can give directly at statesman.com/seasonforcaring or by cutting out a donation coupon that is printed in the paper each day and sending in a check.
Each family has a wish list of items that accompanies its story, but we are trying to be as contactless as possible with physical donations. On the online version of each family’s story, you’ll find a link to that family’s gift registry. You can click on an item and have it sent directly to the sponsoring agency.
This year, we’re also asking for more gift cards, which can be mailed directly to a family’s agency.
Instead of asking for gently used furniture, this year we have teamed up with Austin’s Couch Potatoes in partnership with Furniture Mall of Texas, which are donating new furniture to some families as well as providing furniture at-cost to all the families. The agencies will use Season for Caring monetary donations for those at-cost fees. All the families are receiving new beds from Factory Mattress.
Like every year, Season for Caring families have many in-kind items they need, such as cars and appliances, and services such as remodeling and legal assistance.
For more information on how to give, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 512-445-3590.