San Antonio author Shea Serrano has a well-documented habit of performing and inciting acts of charitable giving via the sizable community that has formed around him on Twitter, where he has over 300,000 followers.

From giving his own money to individuals who express their sincere need to inciting his followers to send money for a particular nonprofit or cause, Serrano has been an active DIY philanthropist for the past several years. 

On Dec. 8, Serrano made a post to his Twitter account calling for people to send money to his Venmo account. 

“I have $31 in my Venmo right now,” the post said. “I’m gonna donate that to a place – if you wanna join in then send money … I’ll tell y’all where I’m donating the money afterward.”

While enjoying a barbeque with his family, Serrano posted frequent updates throughout the day.

“What’s funny is when I told people to send me money I didn’t even tell them where I was going to donate it. I told them I’d tell them all afterward,” Serrano told the Rivard Report.

“But we’ve done enough of these fundraisers that everyone is just like, ‘OK, cool … Here’s $10’ or whatever.” 

“Then,” he said, “I post pictures and screenshots afterward so everyone can see where the money went.”

By the next morning, Serrano had raised $28,831, mostly via many small donations of $5, $10, or $20. It was only then that he announced that he would be donating the bulk of the money to the Martinez Street Women’s Center, a San Antonio nonprofit that works to strengthen communities by empowering women and girls in underserved areas through programs and pursuits that are focused on education, health care, and advocacy.

“I started looking for nonprofits in San Antonio a week or so ago,” Serrano said last week, “because I knew I wanted to make a holiday donation to one.” 

He said Martinez Street Women’s Center came up more than a few times in his inquiries. 

“I even sent a text to [Mayor] Ron Nirenberg asking him for nonprofits that he thought highly of and MSWC was on his list too. So that’s how I settled on them.”

Andrea Figueroa, executive director of the Martinez Street Women’s Center, said she first became aware of Serrano’s gift when he called on the morning of Dec 9.

“He kind of undersold himself,” she said. “He introduced himself as a local author and I was like, ‘Dude, aren’t you like a bestseller?’”

After asking a few questions about the center’s fundraising goals – at that point, the Center had raised about $7,000 of its $15,000 goal in its end-of-year campaign – Serrano asked her the best way to deliver a $25,000 donation.

“I got shell-shocked, and I did cry a little bit,” she said, “because that doesn’t happen very often.

Martinez Street Women's Center Executive Director Andrea Figueroa explains they held community meetings to make sure the mural reflects the community. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Martinez Street Women’s Center Executive Director Andrea Figueroa Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“As an organization, every single donation of any size is incredibly important, but generally when we get something of that size it might be a grant or something that we have to spend time putting together and then waiting on … or sometimes the money is tied to specific uses,” she said.

“Having that sort of unrestricted dollars, meaning that we can use those funds wherever to fill the gaps that we have … it doesn’t happen very often and it was such a welcome surprise.

“The more money that we are able to bring in, that really directly translates to the type of impact that we can have in the community and the number of people that we can serve,” she said.

“It’s a direct line: money in means impact out.”

For those who missed the chance to give during the brief period of Serrano’s fundraising effort, he suggested direct donation via the center’s website. While no specific numbers were available, Figueroa said she had noted a significant rise in new donors throughout last week.

She said the money comes at a great time. Having recently expanded its activities to the West Side, Martinez Street Women’s Center served more women and girls in 2019 than ever before and, according to Figueroa, will certainly top that new best in 2020.

On Tuesday, Figueroa and a few other representatives from the center went by Serrano’s office downtown to receive the donation.

She’s excited about how these funds will aid the center in “allowing girls and women to see their own power and know that they have it now and can use it for good in their own communities and in their own families.”

Serrano is unsure how many people contributed to this gift or the average donation per person, but that’s just the thing about doing DIY charity drives – those statistics do not have to matter to him.

“I don’t keep track of any of that stuff,” he said. “I just turn on the money faucet, fill up a couple of money buckets, then give it all to whatever nonprofit it is that we happen to be supporting that time around.”

After giving the $25,000 to Martinez Street Women’s Center, Serrano decided to give the remaining $3,831 to RAICES, another local nonprofit that he holds in high regard.

Serrano praised the organization, which provides legal and educational services to refugees and immigrants, for “working very hard to fight back” against the negative effects of the Trump administration’s immigration policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

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James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.