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Helping after hardship

Wed., Dec. 13, 2006

Poverty missed Colleen Stevens by two generations, but it left an unmistakable mark on her grandparents.

Her grandmother Charlotte Sullivan saved Saran Wrap as if it cost $50 a roll and hoarded sugar as if it couldn’t be bought for less than a day’s wage. Her grandfather James Sullivan wouldn’t let as much as a piece of string go to waste on his road construction jobs.

However, when the holidays rolled around, Charlotte Sullivan willingly opened her wallet for The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund. As with so many of the fund’s repeat donors, there was a real “been there” factor that prompted Stevens’ grandmother to help others.

“I just think she thought it was important,” Stevens said. “She grew up in the Depression, and she remembered what it was like to do without.”

Both Stevens’ grandparents are dead, so the granddaughter carries on the annual donation, giving in memory of her grandmother and her mother-in-law, Delores Stevens.

Knowing something about hard times was also why Charles Schmeltzer contributed so regularly. He was a North Dakota farm boy in the Great Depression who, when work was scarce, set out for the Civilian Conservation Corps at age 16 and sent his wages home to support his parents and three siblings.

Schmeltzer died this year. In his will, he bequeathed the Christmas Fund a donation of $1,000 in the name of his wife, Irvine Lininger Schmeltzer.

“He gave some money to the Christmas Fund and the Union Gospel Mission,” said his son, Mike Schmeltzer, a journalist who worked at The Spokesman-Review for 22 years. “That is what he asked for. He did not want a funeral or big hubbub, or flowers. He just always felt like it was such a great way of giving direct help to people who really need it.”

The Christmas Fund relies on donations given between Thanksgiving and Dec. 30 by Spokesman-Review readers and area businesses. The money pays for thousands of popular toys in January when prices are at their lowest. Those toys are then given to less fortunate families in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

More than 200 volunteers from Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America distribute the presents every year at the Christmas Bureau at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, 404 N. Havana Road. Families pick out a toy and a book for each of their children. In addition, each household receives a grocery-store voucher to stock the cupboards for the holidays.

The fund is the kind of charity Ray and Liz Schatz wanted the memory of Ray’s sister, Karen Schatz Dunning, to be associated with. Karen was 31 years old when she died from anorexia, leaving behind a 3-year-old son. She would have been 43 this year and so the Schatz family donated $43 in her name.

“Every year, we give how old she would have been,” Liz Schatz said.

“She was an extremely giving person. She worked at Manor Care and had a gift with older people. We wanted her son to have something good to remember her by.”


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