December 3, 2008 in City

Massive toy purchase is a puzzle in itself

Buyers pick thousands of playthings for range of ages
Susan English Correspondent

Janelle Kortlever, left, and Judy Thies check on a shipment of toys with Bill Kuch for distribution at the Christmas Bureau.
(Full-size photo)

How to give to the Christmas Fund

Mail: Donations may be mailed to Christmas Fund, The Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 516, Spokane, WA 99210-0516.

Drop off: At The S-R’s downtown office, 999 W. Riverside Ave.; Spokane Valley office, 13208 E. Sprague Ave.; or Coeur d’Alene office, 608 Northwest Blvd.

Online: Via PayPal at; click “Make a Donation” using a PayPal account or credit card (a charge of 2.9 percent plus 30 cents will be deducted by PayPal from the donation).

Donations will be listed in daily newspaper stories. Donors should clearly indicate how they want their donations credited in the newspaper. Donors who wish to remain anonymous should indicate their wishes on a note separate from their checks.

The Christmas Bureau will be open from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. from Dec. 10 to 13 and Dec. 15 to 20 at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, 404 N. Havana St. For more information, call (509) 459-5453 or (800) 789-0029, ext. 5453.

For six months, the Christmas Bureau toy buyers have been making a list, and this week they’re checking it more than twice as they prepare for the charity’s opening a week from today at the Spokane County fairgrounds.

Judy Thies and Janelle Kortlever oversee orders for more than 16,000 toys for children whose families come to the bureau seeking help with their Christmas celebrations.

The process begins in May, when Thies and Kortlever pore over dozens of toy company catalogs. A committee helps identify toys appropriate for children of all ages.

“Then we run the numbers and see which toys are in our price range,” Kortlever said.

The buyers use last year’s demographics to determine how many toys to order for each age group. Last year, for example, toys were given to about 4,000 preschoolers and more than 3,800 ages 7 to 10.

“Our first consideration when buying toys is safety,” Thies said. “We don’t want toys with too many parts or toys that will make a big mess in the house.”

They try to get the best-quality toy for the price, Kortlever said: “We buy toys that are wholesome, like dolls, sleds, cars, and arts and crafts.”

The toys and food vouchers distributed at the bureau are paid for with donations to The Spokesman-Review’s Christmas Fund. The most recent donors gave $7,174, bringing the tally to $74,984.

The Christmas Bureau orders toys through local toy buyer Bill Kuch. About 80 percent are made in China and shipped to Tacoma and Los Angeles.

Not all of the toys that Thies and Kortlever ordered arrived. Kuch heard several stories about toy factories in Beijing that closed during the Summer Olympics because of shortages of electricity and workers. Some toys simply were not made.

“Some of the smaller toy companies that handled toys from China just gave up and went out of business this year,” he said.

Kuch worked with Thies and Kortlever to find replacements for the toys that didn’t arrive, and they say they have enough for this year’s Christmas Bureau.

“Our goal is to have a good selection of toys for every age group through the last day it’s open,” Thies said. “Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but we try.”

So what are the hot toys this year?

“Basic toys like Legos and princess dolls,” Kuch said.

Ride-on toys, remote-controlled cars, board games and jigsaw puzzles remain popular, said the toy buyers. Interest in pirates has slowed, but “Star Wars” toys go on and on, Kuch said.

Before Christmas, snow toys are popular regardless of the weather, he said. The buyers ordered 500 sleds, snowboards and snow gliders.

Estes Truck Lines has donated the services of a truck and driver to transport the toys from storage to the Christmas Bureau.

Christmas Fund donations of all amounts are welcome. The names of donors and the amount of their donations are listed in daily stories. Tom Ryan donated $1,941.70 via PayPal and included a note: “This donation is in honor of my father, Pat Ryan, who passed away earlier this year. He was to be co-chairperson with Don Kelly of the 2008 Christmas Bureau. My father had a heart for families in need and I am grateful and honored to make this donation in his name. It is my hope that many families will be blessed through the Christmas Bureau, just how my father would have liked it.” Also, Mary Kay Hall donated $970.70 via PayPal in memory of Ryan, her father. “He spent his life serving the higher good,” she wrote.

John, Kristi, Kerry and Sully Blake, of Spokane, donated $1,000.

The Suburbanites, a group of Spokane-area women who raise funds through luncheons, auctions and style shows, donated $350. “All the money we raise is given away,” wrote Elinor Johnson, treasurer.

Judy Laddon and Larry Shook, of Spokane, sent $300.

Nate and Bonnie Narrance, of Colbert, donated $250.

An anonymous donor, of Spokane, sent $208.

Kathy and Russell Mager, of Deer Park, sent $200.

Susan Lambert sent $193.90 via PayPal.

The Hiking Bridge Group, of Spokane, sent $120.

Patricia and Ray Long, of Spokane, sent $100, as did Otto and Shirley Stevens, Ruby Simonson McNeill, Bill and Bettina Bell, and Lane Klees, all of Spokane.

Jennifer Calvert, of Spokane Valley, donated $100, as did two anonymous donors, both of Spokane.

Betty Johnston, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of her husband, David Johnston. Gene Hubbell, of Spokane, sent $100 in honor of his parents, Cliff and Pearl Hubbell. “They are in their 72nd year of wedded bliss,” he wrote.

An anonymous donor, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of Paul and Emma Wasson, and $100 in memory of Trudy Shepard.

Edward and Susan Leach, of Coeur d’Alene, sent $50, as did Steve, Gail and Ben Quaid, of Colbert; McKinley, Joshua and Mia, also of Colbert; and three anonymous donors, all of Spokane.

Edward McCormack, of Spokane, gave $25, as did Victor Buksbazen, Gaylord Thomson, and two anonymous donors, all of Spokane.

Alice and Gary Kadow, of Greenacres, sent $10.

Barbara Fratina donated $5.16 via PayPal.

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