Every month volunteers from Austin Humanists at Work host giveaways under the I-35 bridge downtown for members of Austin’s homeless community. In December, the event was held on Christmas, and proved to be a record-breaking month for the organization.
“As far as the donation numbers, this is our highest number of donation pieces,” ATXHAW Board President Virginia Miller said. Items donated in December totaled 7,259. “It was record-breaking in volunteer hours and pieces.”
ATXHAW typically hands out an assortment of necessary items, including personal hygiene items, blankets, clothing and nonperishable food. But in December, volunteers and donors rallied to offer a few extras to the 106 people who came through the giveaway line.
The extra food
First-time volunteer Braidon Eikenberry said he and two other employees of the Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B each received a voucher for a free turkey during the holidays. The three teens offered to donate their turkeys to be cooked and served during ATXHAW’s Christmas giveaway.
“My family, we don’t really do turkey on Thanksgiving, and we don’t do it on Christmas. My brother and I both work at H-E-B; I put in mine, he put in his, and then my girlfriend also works at H-E-B, and she heard we were doing that and she threw it in too,” Eikenberry said. “I kind of kick started it. I thought it would be a good idea, but Virginia made it a real thing.”
The food offering was a game-changer for the December giveaway.
“Then we all said, let’s see if anyone else wants to bring anything, and everyone piped up to help,” Miller said. “We just asked for food, and it happened. We asked for a generator, and it happened. We asked for more tables, and it happened.”
The extra community involvement
Organizations from throughout Austin contributed also contributed to the success of ATXHAW December giveaway. The group distributed 79 Just Because bags, which contain special gift-like items not usually available on the giveaway line, and after ATXHAW volunteers purchased tamales from Hecho en Mexico to hand out during the giveaway, the restaurant staff individually wrapped them for recipients and brought volunteers to the Christmas event.
Local organization Keep Austin Fed also donated food to be handed out during the event. Lisa Barden is the Program Director for Keep Austin Fed, a just-in-time food rescue nonprofit that salvages perishable items from grocery stores and commercial kitchens and delivers them to local organizations who help feed the hungry.
“Occasionally we get some nonperishable items as well, so we try to disperse them to the people who can use it the best,” Barden said, adding that Keep Austin Fed has contributed some of the non perishables to ATXHAW. “I think this is great. I didn’t realize they did it every month … I think I’ll come back.”
The extra contributions
While the number of recipients on Sunday was lower than average, likely because of the simultaneous Christmas donation stations set up throughout Austin, in total there were more than 70 ATXHAW volunteers on-hand to sort and distribute items, set up tables, serve a hearty meal, and even hold down a tent. Then there was the surge of donations that outpaced any previous drive. And with the additional inventory, more volunteer hours than ever were spent in preparation for the extra special Christmas giveaway.
“People are so generous, especially this time of year. It’s the season of giving,” Miller said. “We get more things in December that hold us over for the slow months. As soon as January hits, that drops off considerably. But with the record number of donations in 2016, we’re hoping for an abundant 2017 for the humans we serve.”
The grand total for the 2016 giveaway year was 38,875 items donated, which is about 8,000 more items than the 2015 giveaway year. The average donations for the last 12 months is 3,240 items per month.