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Newspaper’s help keeps charity rolling

In so many ways, a town’s newspaper reflects the soul of a community. The community’s conversation is fostered on the newspaper pages, and when there is a need, there are few better forums than a newspaper for letting that need be known to community members.

The Spokesman-Review’s Christmas Fund works because of this simple principle: Generous community members are willing to provide for a brighter Christmas for needy families. The newspaper is the conduit between donor and recipient. The Spokesman-Review partners with Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America at the Christmas Bureau, where Christmas fixings are given to more than 30,000 poor people each December, paid for with Christmas Fund donations.

The Spokesman-Review has run the Christmas Fund under the leadership of three publishers, all Cowles family members, for more than six decades.

Publisher Stacey Cowles said his family has always believed in the model of Bedford Falls, the town in the classic holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“We’re all connected to each other by virtue of the fact that we live in the same place, and if our fate is tied together this way, it’s imperative that we all engage in making the place better,” said Cowles.

Many local companies donate to the Christmas charity behind the scenes, and The Spokesman-Review is among them; it helps the charity keep its commitment to having donations go directly to children and their families.

“We cover the processing of thousands of checks handled by our accounting department,” Cowles said. “We contributed dozens of computers and a network to manage screening and record keeping at the bureau. And we cover the direct costs of renting a facility for distribution of toys, books and vouchers.” Last year, the costs of renting the fairgrounds building ran more than $7,100.

“Our commitment has been to make giving to the fund as close to 100 percent efficient as possible by having the partners involved to absorb all of the administrative costs of collecting the money, buying toys, creating vouchers and handing them out,” Cowles continued. “Everybody wants to know that what they give goes straight to the person who needs it.”

The newspaper also publishes a Christmas Fund story every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas on the front page, a significant commitment considering the news stories that merit such prominence.

Steven A. Smith, editor of The Spokesman-Review, said, “One of our newsroom values reads: ‘We will do good, not just good work.’ Raising nearly $500,000 annually is an enormous challenge, and we know we best capture the community’s interest and involvement by dedicating the newspaper’s most valuable real estate, Page 1.”

Cowles acknowledged that publishing stories on the front page is part of the appeal for some donors. “It’s not just the philanthropic satisfaction that matters. You get recognized in print, maybe even on the front page, for your generosity and that’s satisfying too.”

Smith is a relative newcomer to the community and to the annual Christmas Fund effort. He said that when he arrived four years ago, what surprised him most was the amount of money raised each year.

“I’m not sure area residents know how special this effort has become. Many newspapers sponsor annual holiday giving programs. But I know of no newspaper of our size in a community of our size that raises so much year in and year out. It is extraordinary.”

Smith said that the Christmas Fund and Bureau are annual manifestations of the newsroom values. “We give voice to the voiceless and defend the defenseless,” he said. “We support our community’s youth and recognize the positive lives they lead.”

The Christmas Fund is fundamental to the newsroom’s concept of community journalism, Smith continued. “Without it, or something like it, how could we call ourselves community journalists?”

Cowles has worked as a volunteer at the bureau. He said the experience reinforced “how vast the needs are out there for things most of us are fortunate enough to take for granted, from diapers to toothpaste, to just one toy gift on Christmas.”

Smith said one of the important benefits of the Christmas Bureau for those who work in the newsroom is the glimpse it provides of the face of poverty in the community.

“It is sobering to see the folks who rely on the bureau face to face and realize that as hardworking as they are, they still can’t win a piece of our community’s growing prosperity. It is an eye-opener,” he said.

Cowles said his family has remained committed because “it fulfilled a gut-level hope we all have: that kids, no matter what their economic circumstances, share the experience of connection and hope embodied in the tradition of giving presents on Christmas morning.”

With donations of $10,987, the Christmas Fund has raised $198,479.05. That’s well short of the amount needed to pay for the toys and food vouchers given out at the bureau. More than 7,500 needy families have already received holiday fixings at the bureau, which closes Dec. 20.

Saturday, volunteers gave food vouchers totaling $7,692 and 889 toys to 571 needy families. Food vouchers totaling $225,175 have been given to 7,692 families and 12,837 needy children will get toys for Christmas.

The Christmas Fund will continue raising money through Dec. 28. Donations of all amounts are welcome. Donors and their donations will be published in daily stories. Donors who want to remain anonymous should indicate their wishes in a note accompanying the check.

Following are the donors and their donations:

An anonymous donor, of Creston, Wash., sent $2,000.

Two anonymous donors, of Spokane, sent $1,500.

Bill and Mabel McInerney, of Priest River, Idaho, donated $500, as did Joseph and Nancy McBride, of Chattaroy; an anonymous donor, of Mead; and an anonymous donor, of Spokane, in memory of loved ones gone who liked Christmas.

Betty and Ted Morse, of Spokane, gave $250, as did an anonymous donor, of Loon Lake, Wash., in honor of wonderful friends.

The Patten family, of Spokane, sent $200 and a note: “Each December, my husband Les Patten had the Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund at the top of his list of charitable donations. His family plans to continue this commitment, knowing that your Christmas Fund is what the spirit of Christmas is all about. This contribution also is to honor Les’s former tennis doubles partner, Mick Soss, one of your annual volunteers.”

Julie Lehr, of Spokane, gave $200, as did Daniel and Theresa Lennon, also of Spokane.

Yvonne Yates, of Spokane, sent $150 and a note: “My mother, Geraldine Blumenschein, has requested we make a donation to a charity instead of buying Christmas presents for her. I am pleased to be able to make this donation to fulfill her request and help you to make another’s Christmas a little brighter.”

Brian and Ann Torigoe-Hawkins, of Spokane, donated $125.

John and Sherry Gaiser, of Spokane, sent $110.

Carol Ann and Frederic Rettenmund, of Spokane, donated $100, as did Gary and Susan Bloom, Allene Womble, and two anonymous donors, all of Spokane; an anonymous donor, of Mead; an anonymous donor, of Colbert, and an anonymous donor, of Spokane Valley.

Zola and Zane Barnwell, of Spokane, gave $100 in honor of Aunt Debbie and Uncle Jim.

Theresa and Jeffrey Utesch, of Veradale, sent $100, as did Gilbert, Ginger, Mel, Judy, Donovan and Donna Kleweno, of Endicott, Wash.; Delbert and Rojean Flory, of Spokane Valley; and the Spokane Sorosis organization. Christine Gamble, of Spokane, donated $100 in memory of her husband, who passed away this year.

Donald and Judith Young, of Spokane, sent $100 in memory of Myra. The Bruce Carmack family and Ashley donated $100 in memory of their niece and cousin, Dawna. An anonymous donor, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of her husband and granddaughter, “who always helped those in need.” Helen, of Spokane, donated $100, “in memory of my husband Bob and friend Jeanne.”

An anonymous donor, of Spokane, gave $75 in memory of Arnie.

Lola and Kenneth Cogswell, of Spokane, sent $50, as did Pam and Randy, of Spokane; Nancy Jones, and an anonymous donor, both of Spokane Valley; Sherry Colliton, of Spokane; and Laura and William Nestoss, of Greenacres.

An anonymous donor, of Spokane, gave $40 in memory of her husband, “who was always so giving to people in need.”

Susan Watson-Persyn, of Priest River, Idaho, sent $34 in memory of her son, Auzzie Watson, “who would have been 34 this year. He was a giver, and would be happy to help others.”

Gary and Geri Proctor, of Spokane, donated $30.

Canniwai Grange 837, of Odessa, Wash., donated $25, as did Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Dwyer, and Jesse and Lucile Lill, all of Spokane; Irene Leikauf, of Nine Mile Falls; Maggie Maut, of Liberty Lake; and an anonymous donor, of Cheney. The United Methodist Women of the Audubon Park United Methodist Church, of Spokane, donated $25 in appreciation of Becky Nappi.

An anonymous donor, of Spokane, sent $20. The Tuesday Telephone Girls Coffee Group, of Spokane, gave $18. An anonymous donor, of Spokane, gave $10.