It’s the little things – a voucher for food, toys for the kids, a bag of candy – that can make a world of difference on Christmas.
Like others who waited in line Wednesday at the Christmas Bureau, Terri Cates of Spokane needed just a little help to make the holidays special for her family.
It’s these little things, the extra things such as books and sweets, that she often can’t afford. Both she and her husband work, she said, but they barely make enough to pay the mortgage and all the other bills. At their house, on most years, Christmas gifts are considered a luxury.
“This will get us a nice Christmas dinner,” Cates said with a smile after receiving her grocery voucher. “And there will be presents for the kids.”
Many who arrived at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center after 4 p.m. Wednesday knew exactly where Cates was coming from. Yes, they have jobs. And yes, they work hard. But low wages, hefty heating bills and the rising cost of health care make it so difficult to get by. At the end of the day, there’s still not enough to make ends meet.
Wearing four layers of clothing, Cates rushed from her part-time job as a crossing guard and staff support person at Stevens Elementary to get to the fairgrounds on the one day during the week that the Christmas Bureau stays open after 2:30 p.m.
It’s been a tough year, said Cates, 51, and the mother of seven. At one point, they had as many as 11 people living in their two-bedroom North Side home. Another family they knew became homeless, she said, so she and her husband, Jeff, decided to take them in, even if they barely had enough room for their own four children who still live at home.
“We did it because we love Jesus, and the Bible tells us to care for other people,” explained Cates. “We also know what it’s like to be in their shoes. We’ve come so close to losing everything.”
Earlier this year, when her husband couldn’t get extra work in addition to his full-time job at Central Pre-Mix, the family had to foreclose on their home. Fortunately, they were able to make a deal so they could continue living there as long as they made extra payments when they finally have the cash.
Having so many people living at their home also took a toll on their finances. After paying the bills this month, Cates had just enough money to put a computer game on layaway. If it weren’t for the Christmas Bureau, that would’ve been the only gift for the kids.
“I have a lot to be thankful for,” said Cates, who came to the Christmas Bureau with her two youngest children – 12-year-old Dorothy and 10-year-old Ken.
They still have their home, she said. For the most part, they’re healthy. And one of her sons even had a job interview Wednesday.
“Someday, we’re going to dig ourselves out of this,” Cates said with genuine optimism. “Someday, our story will have a happy ending.”