Austin’s gift-giving organizations will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday. Blue Santa, Brown Santa and the Christmas Bureau of Austin work together to help thousands of children every holiday season.
This year, there’s someone fairly new in charge of the Christmas Bureau of Austin.
He said he’s behind when it comes to planning, and he’s not the only one concerned about what that will mean for local children in need.
For two decades, Alma Cruz was the face and spirit of the Christmas Bureau of Austin and Travis County, a locally-run charity that helped hundreds of families and thousands of children in need.
But Cruz tragically died last Christmas season. And now Blue Santa, which oversees local gift giving to needy families, is asking a single question: Where is the Christmas Bureau?
Pamela Parnell remembers her dear friend Alma, and all the work she put into the organization.
“October, November, December, and January she was gone from work and it all had to do with the Christmas Bureau, making sure people’s lives were better,” said Parnell.
The holiday season is usually filled with cheer, but for Joe Munoz, who oversees the Austin Police Department’s Operation Blue Santa program, the season is filled with concern.
“If the Christmas Bureau doesn’t come through that really puts us in a huge predicament,” said Munoz. “We haven’t heard anything from them.”
Every year Operation Blue Santa is run by the Austin Police Department, and they partner with other organizations like the county’s Brown Santa program and the Christmas Bureau of Austin and Travis County, a privately-run organization.
The programs work closely together each year to meet the needs of the community, but this year things are different.
“Usually [the Christmas Bureau] purchases the applications for us, but this year since we did not hear from them we had to purchase the applications ourselves,” said Munoz.
The big question is — Where is the Christmas Bureau? A check of the organization’s website shows it hasn’t been updated since last year, but it also says they are currently accepting online donations. A call to the phone number shows it was disconnected.
Shon Washington took over as director after Cruz’s death, so KXAN tracked him down. Washington says he’s been running the Christmas Bureau by himself since last year.
Until now, local charities that work with the bureau hadn’t heard from him. He says he got a late start this year, because he was out of the country for a family emergency.
“So I looked to come home and just get a location and kick things up, but I have $99 in our Pay Pal account,” said Washington.
Washington says at this time of the year, they’ve usually already raised more than $30,000. He spent Tuesday searching for a new location and says next he’s looking for help to get the website up to date again. Despite the setbacks, Washington says he is still willing to make a promise.
“We are going to make it happen again,” said Washington. “On the 25th [of December] every applicant will be served.”
It’s a promise Parnell is hoping will come true with the help of the community, so that her friend’s legacy will live on and thousands of children will keep believing.
“All someone would have to do is buy a little gift and drop it off and their deed is done,” said Parnell.
If you would like to donate, Operation Blue Santa and Brown Santa are still accepting donations. The Christmas Bureau is in desperate need of volunteers, toys and donations as well. The organization’s website is still in the process of being updated, but its Pay Pal link does work.
Operation Blue Santa holds its annual Chuy’s Parade on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m. in Downtown Austin to collect toys.
An emergency meeting will be held Wednesday, and a press conference will take place on Thursday to determine how the organizations will move forward.