Junior Matthew Hofmann sells t-shirts and wristbands to students during McDonalds Week.
Junior Matthew Hofmann sells t-shirts and wristbands to students during McDonald’s Week.

Junior class fundraiser benefits local shelter

McDonald’s Week, led by members of the junior class, took place Nov. 13-16, a memorable experience for students of all grade levels. Proceeds from the fundraising directly benefited Austin Street Center, utilizing the proceeds from the event to continue helping their community.
Austin Street Center residents engage in an afternoon game of chickenfoot. PHOTO / NOAH CATHEY

Four guys sat around a small table near the entrance to Austin Street Center for an afternoon game of Chickenfoot on Black Friday.

Cracking jokes with each other, they shuffled their dominoes, quickly pairing up the small black dots. 

A decorated Christmas tree was up, welcoming visitors and residents inside with twinkling lights.

A few sat reading their Bibles, others cut through construction paper at an arts and crafts setup. Everyone conversed with friends both outside in the courtyard and in the warmth of the center’s main room.

College football games were on the television, allowing the residents to watch Oklahoma beat down TCU and Tulane kickoff against UTSA.

Among the handful of people who were settled in for the day was CEO of Austin Street Center Daniel Roby. 

As Roby made his rounds, residents looked up from what they were doing to offer a, “Hey, Mr. Daniel!” or simply a smile and nod. Roby reciprocated their greetings every time.

Heading through the kitchen, to volunteers making fajitas for dinner, Roby says, “I’m grateful for you.”

That evening, each resident would have a nutritious meal and warm bed to sleep in.

They might be at Austin Street for a week, a month or even longer. But with the help and resources they are receiving, they can have a lot of hope that they’ll land in a home of their own. 

A few weeks before, eight miles north of the center, Marksmen were celebrating McDonald’s Week, enjoying the brisk fall weather in the restaurant’s parking lot, a short walk away from campus.

Whether that be showing up for early morning events before school or walking over with their classes throughout the day on that Tuesday, they arrived ready to relax and enjoy time with their friends.

After buying a Frozen Fanta or a Bacon McGriddle inside the overpacked restaurant, students headed over to foldout tables where juniors were eager and ready to sell them raffle tickets, baby blue Minions-themed t-shirts and wristbands.

Huddled around junior Gage Fojtasek’s car, they cheered each other on playing FIFA on an XBox and monitor set up quickly out of his trunk.

Freshmen students partake in an intense game of FIFA on an XBox set up out of the back of a car on all-day day during McDonald’s Week in the restaurant’s parking lot. PHOTO / NOAH CATHEY

Onlookers enjoyed intense games of ping pong which often involved junior Mateu Parker facing off against talented Lower Schoolers. They celebrated the winners of cornhole matches, while jamming out to music blaring out of the sound system of Fojtasek’s car through the open doors. Maybe they heard Charlie Grable pour his heart and soul out into the karaoke mic.

But this weeklong event was much more than a fun break from the school routine. During the events of McDonald’s Week, funds raised selling merchandise and raffle tickets, also  accumulating donations from McDonald’s itself along with other local restaurant partners will go directly to Austin Street Center and allow Roby and his colleagues to continue their work. 

The junior class is still finalizing the total from their fundraising, but they have accumulated $18,000 so far with more to come. Last year, McDonald’s Week led by the class of 2024 raised over $26,000.

With a $60 cost of lodging and food for one person to spend the night at Austin Street, the McDonald’s Week enabled over 430 people to stay at the center, and this year, the junior class hopes their efforts will nearly double that total.

With these continued contributions, there will be more happy afternoons for residents. More nutritious meals, more beds to sleep in. More lives touched.

Roby believes he’s at his best when he’s engaging people with significant need, and that is exactly what Austin Street is built to do.

A homeless shelter situated just outside downtown, Austin Street Center has been the place of relief for those in need of short-term housing for decades.

But the center not only provides temporary housing for its clients – it also aims to enable them to move into permanent homes.

With a nearly 90-day long average length of stay for the average resident, Roby is able to get to know each person and see their development, and it’s clear he’s popular among them.

He knows that the work done by him and his colleagues is not enough to keep the Austin Street up and running; volunteerism is vital for their success.

“People don’t realize that when they come in to serve, it’s essentially offsetting a cost we’d otherwise have to pay for.” Roby said. “So when people say, ‘We realize the importance of community, and we want to spend time serving people that have significant need,’ it not only offsets cost for us, it’s also just good for humanity.”

Originally founded by local philanthropists, Austin Street Center primarily relied on churches that supplied meals for residents to enjoy.

Now, a year and a half after moving into a new, larger facility, Austin Street has access to a fully functional kitchen, enabling them to provide balanced meals to residents without a heavy reliance on daily donations and dropoffs.

This larger facility came with increased bed capacity, group spaces and resources for clients.

It also came with greater operating costs, making the little things like volunteers all the more vital to maximizing every dollar available as they work towards their ultimate goal.

“Other circumstances are really secondary to that main focus,” Roby said. “If we’re identifying the problem as homelessness, then we’ve already identified the solution to help.”

Roby knows that short-term shelter doesn’t fully address homelessness, so Austin Street also prioritizes programs enabling clients to make independent housing possible.

“Each program is embedded in the same process,” Roby said. “That process is basically coming up with a plan, making sure that we are able to find a placement for everyone, making sure that we’re able to find the payment for that placement and to make sure that that placement is permanent.”

Residents at Austin Street enjoy the afternoon watching college football.                      PHOTO / ZACHARY BASHOUR 

Working with community partners makes this process easier for both Austin Street and their clients. 

“Everything we do is in partnership,” Roby said “There’s no way we could do all this by ourselves.”

These partnerships help bring more than 40 events to the center each month, including computer literacy sessions taught by Goodwill and Parkland mobile medical clinics every week.

To finance and operate the facility, Austin Street Center holds fundraising events of their own, which are supplemented by government funding as well as third party donors and events, such as McDonald’s Week.

“We’re lucky that the young men of St. Mark’s are the ones that lead that charge,” Roby said, “and they really don’t require a whole lot of us because of how capable they are.”

Austin Street Center is proud to have helped more than 2,000 clients in 2022, and with the continued support of the greater Dallas community, that number will continue to grow.

Junior Jack Tholking served as one of three McDonald’s Week co-chairs alongside juniors Eduardo Mousinho and Owen Ackerman, all three working closely with their two class sponsors, Sherry George and Amy Pool.

The event has been a staple on campus for nearly two decades, and each year the junior-class-led fundraiser has not only been a bonding experience for the entire grade level, but also generated annual profits to benefit Austin Street Center.

Since Lower School, Tholking has seen the palpable excitement spread across campus each year during mid-November to partake in the school tradition, and his interest in participating in the event has only grown since his earlier years.

But knowing that the true purpose of McDonald’s Week is to make an impact on other people’s lives through Austin Street pushed Tholking’s intention to join the event planning beyond a doubt.

“It’s a great way for us to have fun and also to spread the word about Austin Street, and not just to spread the word but to do something about it,” Tholking said.

In late spring of this year, Tholking and his other co-chairs led the class of 2025 to their first major decision: the McDonald’s Week theme.

After much deliberation, the class decided on “McMinions,” basing the theme on the popular movie franchise “Despicable Me.”

Over the course of the summer and through the early months of the fall, the co-chairs organized various groups and subcommittees to organize sponsorships, design t-shirts and wristbands, organize events and much more. 

Finally, in mid-November, Tholking saw all their work pay off.

The junior class event, consisting of morning events, all-day day on Tuesday and dinner nights at local restaurants resulted in a successful week of fundraising and a grade-wide bonding experience Tholking will never forget.

The co-chairs are still compiling final details and will announce the total sum of their fundraising in the coming weeks, with the hope their efforts build on the impact of years prior.

Junior class secretary Teddy Fleiss participated in the planning of McDonald’s along with other STUCO members was particularly moved by the event, knowing it will make a positive difference in the lives of those at Austin Street.

“Seeing the impact of McDonald’s Week, I definitely want to continue to find ways to help those less fortunate than me in the community,” Fleiss said. “I can’t wait to see the impact our event has made at Austin Street first-hand.”

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