Even during the dog days of August, Spokane retiree Carol Speltz was thinking about Christmas. Why? Because Speltz is the volunteer director of one of the largest Christmas charities in the country.
Speltz is in charge of the Christmas Bureau, which distributes toys and grocery store vouchers to the poor, held this year from Dec. 8-21 at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. The charity serves about 31,000 people and requires the efforts of more than 200 volunteers.
Donations to The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund pay for the Christmas Bureau operations. Donations of all amounts are welcome. The fundraising goal is $485,000, which is the amount that Speltz and other organizers estimate will be needed to provide the fixings of Christmas for about 10,000 needy families.
The Christmas Fund partners with Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America in the running of the charitable effort. Catholic Charities executive director Rob McCann learned last year that the fund and bureau are among the largest Christmas charities in the country in terms of the number of poor people served.
At a national Catholic Charities executive directors’ meeting, McCann found that only three Christmas charities in the country serve more than 30,000 people – Spokane’s and similar efforts in Chicago and New York.
The largesse of the Inland Northwest community is a point of pride for Speltz, who retired in 2001 from St. Mary’s Catholic School, where she had been principal since 1986. “The generosity of the community is something we all should be proud of,” Speltz said.
While at St. Mary’s, Speltz became well-acquainted with longtime Christmas Bureau volunteer and St. Mary’s parish pastor Monsignor Frank Bach.
Every year he’d take the school and parish staff and trot off with them to the Christmas Bureau, Speltz said.
“I told him that when I retire, I’m going out to the Christmas Bureau,” she said.
In December 2001, she worked at the identification table at the bureau. Her involvement increased each year and in 2005 she volunteered to head up the effort for a two-year term.
“I felt a quiet reinforcement from others at the bureau that it would be acceptable for me to step up and take more responsibility,” Speltz said.
Volunteering during the two weeks that the bureau is open requires a significant time commitment during the busy holiday season. The commitment expands to year-round for the director and many of the committee chairs.
“A lot of what I do this time of year is just follow-up,” Speltz said.
Do the people in charge of selecting the thousands of toys need any help? Has donated storage space for the toys been lined up? Are there enough volunteers?
Speltz said she initially panicked when she learned that the Catholic Charities events organizer and the volunteer coordinator had both accepted positions at a different nonprofit agency.
“I stopped and looked around the room at the other bureau volunteers and thought: These are all professional volunteers. Yes, the Christmas Bureau will go on,” Speltz said.
The bureau opens in just two weeks. She’ll work closely with volunteer co-chairs Don Kelly and Pat Ryan, as a way of training new directors to take the reins next year. “Bruce Butler worked that way with me when I was co-chair and before that, Sally Quinn was chair and trained Bruce,” Speltz said.
“Having had great mentors opened the door for me to reach out in this way,” Speltz said.