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Family finds niche in volunteering

Thu., Dec. 14, 2006

Volunteering to work at the Christmas Bureau is a family affair for a half-dozen Spokane households.

A large chart posted in the volunteer lunch area at the bureau lists the volunteers on duty each day. Wednesday it included members of the Utesch and the Wadden-Nappi families, and four of the Byrds.

Other days, the Quirks, Raabes and Mounceys fill a number of spots on the volunteer chart.

There are actually 12 Byrds, if you don’t count sons- and daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Sometimes, if they volunteer as a family, it overwhelms the charity.

“We don’t mess around; we move and shake and get things done,” said Ann Marie Byrd-Nichols, who worked Wednesday as a door greeter at the bureau. “One year we volunteered at the food bank and sorted food and finished that and were given another job and finished that. Then the director was wondering what to have us do next. We had completed all our work already.”

If there is such a thing as a poster family for volunteers at the bureau, the Byrds would be it. LeRoy Byrd, the family patriarch and a physician, was a line controller all day Wednesday. His wife, Irene Ann Byrd, worked the child care room, and daughter Alicia B. Sullivan spent the day at the computer table printing food vouchers.

At noon, the four Byrds caught up with one another over sandwiches in the bureau lunch area.

As a large family – 10 children – they have a long tradition of helping others at Christmas.

“When I was in second or third grade, our home burned down on Dec. 6; my 14-month-old sister died. Since then, my parents have been especially generous to anyone whose home burns,” said Byrd-Nichols, who turned 40 on Tuesday. Her nine siblings range in age from 27 to 47.

“We are so fortunate as a family and our parents taught us well,” she said.

Sullivan said that when they were children, they would select a needy family and go to their home to deliver Christmas gifts.

“One year we got to the home and did not realize the father would be there, and we didn’t have a gift for him,” she said. “Mom told my brother to take off his sweater and give it to the father as a gift. Literally, he gave him the sweater off his back.”

Byrd-Nichols said that one Christmas, her younger brother refused to get out of the car and go into the house of the family they were helping because one of the boys was in his class. “He just didn’t want to embarrass him,” she said.

This is the second year that Irene Ann Byrd has volunteered at the Christmas Bureau, and she invited the family to join her this year. “We have done something each year before Christmas, sometimes monetarily and sometimes with time,” she said.

Sullivan said the family, which numbers 32, no longer exchanges gifts at Christmas but they do gather on Christmas Eve for dinner at the Byrd house. This year there will be one more. “My younger brother, Stephen, and his wife, Amy, are in China right now adopting a baby girl,” she said. “They will be back on Dec. 23 with their Christmas gift.”


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