Longhorns care: Donations to Orange Santa program strong
Giving back while going forward with December finals and the holiday season.
Early December for UT student-athletes consists of the rush of final papers and classes, preparation for final examinations, working out with their teams as off-season athletes, or, in the case of many, competing and traveling as in-season athletes. It admittedly is a stressful time before the holidays, but it's also a time for the Longhorns to step back, realize their good fortunes and participate with heartfelt emotions in the Orange Santa program.
The campus-wide Orange Santa program began in 1994 and was designed to foster a more caring campus environment by providing assistance for members of The University community who have special needs during the holiday season.
Each year, the Texas student-athletes go shopping to purchase toys and gifts for families in the University-wide Orange Santa program. The UT Athletics volunteer effort is coordinated by the UT Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), made up of representatives from each team who hold monthly meetings and work with SAAC advisors and UT administrators on committee work, ongoing projects, surveys and volunteerism throughout the academic year.
Last December 2006, Orange Santa served 400 families, including 1,500 children. This year, the needs have risen substantially, and the Orange Santa volunteers will serve 500 families and over 1,700 children.
This week, the families currently are coming to Bellmont Hall on the UT campus and choosing their gifts, with campus volunteers assisting them and wrapping the gifts as well.
Participation in the Orange Santa program has become an annual tradition among the Longhorn student-athletes.
"Working with the Orange Santa program is a fantastic way to get in the holiday spirit, and a good way for all the athletes to get involved in helping give back to the community and people that work for the university," noted baseball junior pitcher Drew Bishop. "The list of families and kids needing help grows and grows each year, and we want to do our part to help."
Bishop, who hails from Rockwall, Texas, carried the baseball team's purchases to the Orange Santa distribution center Monday alongside fellow junior pitcher Keith Shinaberry. Both Bishop and Shinaberry, from Austin, are the baseball team's SAAC representatives.
"We all like being involved in Orange Santa because it helps provide a Merry Christmas to the other families," Shinaberry said. "I know growing up I was lucky enough to be able to have a big Christmas, and just to be able to give back to people who may be less fortunate is a good feeling and it's something that everybody can help in contributing to."
In addition to purchasing gifts, the SAAC representatives collected donations of toys and money at selected volleyball and men's and women's basketball games in November and December to aid the Orange Santa program.
The SAAC representative from women's basketball, sophomore guard and leading scorer Brittainey Raven, echoed the baseball players' thoughts.
"We know it's hard for some families who are not as fortunate as we are, and we all are thankful for what we have, and thankful for the opportunities to do things that we can do," Raven said. "We get excited to get out to the malls and get gifts and help make kids smile and have a better Christmas. The other day, Aubry Cook, Ashley Lindsey and I had a great time buying our toys, and we were laughing and smiling thinking how fun it would be to see the kids' faces on Christmas when they get these gifts."
Raven, a resident of Fort Worth, Texas smiled and added, "Before every game, Coach G (head coach Gail Goestenkors) writes a motivational or inspirational message on the board for us. Saturday, before our game at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, she wrote, 'To whom much is given,' with dot-dot-dot after it. She did not have to finish the phrase. We all know it finishes with 'much is expected', or, from the Bible, "for unto whom much is given; of him shall be much required'. "
"Coach G. meant we are given a lot of resources and great people to help us succeed in basketball and in our college life," finished Raven. "And, it applies to volunteering and giving back to the UT community as well, since the UT community provides us with so much.
That phrase that Coach G selected is appropriate for this time of the year, and so appropriate as we help with the Orange Santa program."
Note: for more information on The University's Orange Santa program, go to UTexas.edu/events/orangesanta/. The Orange Santa volunteer effort will be highlighted on the upcoming Longhorn Sports Center Weekly TV show, which airs Sunday, Dec. 16.