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Angels donate time, labor

The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund opened Friday, but already volunteers are making preparations for the Dec. 7 opening of the Christmas Bureau. Providing the fixings of Christmas for thousands of needy area families is a big job.

Donations to the Christmas Fund make it possible. The goal this year is $485,000. The first donations will be reported Monday.

Volunteers have been working for months on tasks such as buying 15,000 toys and updating software.

Staffing the bureau requires about 250 volunteers. Karen Orlando of Catholic Charities and volunteer Scooter Mahoney schedule workers into hundreds of time slots over the 11 days the bureau is open. They have all of the volunteers they need for this year.

Volunteers work at the identification table, computerized check-in, child-care area, book tables and toy rooms. They spend hours inflating soccer balls, volleyballs and basketballs; they organize toys by the intended age group and monitor inventory; and they create a break room where volunteers can get a cup of coffee, a doughnut or lunch.

Orlando said Custer Enterprises will create the toy rooms and child-care area this year from commercial panels and put skirts around the identification and computer tables. It’s all part of an ongoing effort to make the Christmas Bureau more festive. For many recipients, this will be their only Christmas “shopping.”

In past years, the toy rooms were partitioned with blue tarps draped over PVC pipes anchored with sandbags. The child-care area was created with walls of cardboard boxes.

The members of Hoo Hoo Express woodworkers, a group of hobbyists, again crafted 650 wooden cars and delivered them to St. Charles School. As a service project, students there put on the wheels and axles. Those cars will be given to children waiting in the child-care area while their parents “shop.”

Orlando lined up student volunteers from Rogers and Lewis and Clark high schools, and Gonzaga Prep, to help carry large toys to the parking lot and staff the child-care area.

Bureau co-chair Bruce Butler arranged for trucks to move the thousands of toys, tables, chairs and computers from warehouses to the fairgrounds before the bureau opens.

Volunteers have put posters of the bureau schedule in schools and community centers. This year the bureau opens Dec. 7 and closes Dec. 21.

“We had a positive response from the working poor on the Wednesdays we were open last year until 6:30 at night, so we decided to schedule the bureau so it’s open three Wednesdays this year,” Butler said. “It’s an experiment.”

Needy families from throughout the Inland Northwest have always been welcome to get toys and food vouchers at the bureau. But organizers felt this invitation may not have been well known outside of Spokane.

“This year we are putting posters up in Post Falls, for example,” said Butler. “The push there is driven by a couple of significant donations from that community to last year’s Christmas Fund.”

Last year, while the bulk of donations came from Eastern Washington donors, dozens were sent from North Idaho and a handful came from Oregon, Montana, California, Illinois, Minnesota and Maine.

Recipients of bureau goodies were from the Inland Northwest, with the majority reporting home addresses in Spokane County but a few coming from homes in rural North Idaho and the agricultural areas of Eastern Washington.

While the bureau is nearly ready to give holiday gifts to the area’s needy people, the Christmas Fund needs generous donors. No amount is too small, or too large.


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