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Some Christmas Bureau gifts signal importance of early reading

Wed., Dec. 2, 2009, midnight

For the past nine years, families who went through the Christmas Bureau received free books for their children along with food vouchers and toys.

Scholastic Inc. donated the books, enabling organizers to give them away without denting the Christmas Fund budget.

But last winter Scholastic informed the Christmas Bureau it could no longer provide the books. The bad economy had taken its toll on the company.

But Christmas Bureau organizers decided books – a symbol to kids of the importance of literacy – were too important to skip in 2009. They dedicated $25,000 of the Christmas Fund budget to keep the tradition alive.

“Every child needs to have a new book at Christmas,” said Tana Carosella, a retired Cheney School District teacher who heads the bureau’s book program.

The Christmas Bureau distributes food vouchers and gifts over 10 days to needy families. It’s organized by The Spokesman-Review, Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America, and it’s funded through donations from the community.

This year’s Christmas Fund has grown to $32,942, less than half its size this time last year but about $6,000 more than the five-year average for this day.

Carosella is a member of the Alpha Nu chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa, an honorary sorority of teachers. The Alpha Nu chapter has spearheaded the bureau’s book-giving effort for nearly a decade. Alpha Nu now gets support from other local Alpha Delta Kappa chapters.

In the past, the effort involved sorting through the thousands of books Scholastic delivered in pallet-sized bins.

With word from Scholastic that the donations would no longer come, volunteer teachers met several times last winter, poring over book catalogs and selecting thousands of titles for kids of various ages.

There’s one exception, however: The bureau will no longer provide books to children older than 14. Books for that age group cost much more than books for younger kids, so organizers made the difficult decision not to order them.

Except for board books for young children, which organizers bought through dollar stores, and books donated by the Alpha Nu chapter and the local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter, the books were purchased from Scholastic.

“Scholastic has been absolutely wonderful to work with,” Carosella said. “They gave us 50 to 70 percent off.” The company also shipped and is storing the books free of charge.

As in past years, four or five retired and current teachers will staff the Christmas Bureau book tables at all times, helping parents choose titles that match their children’s skills and interests.

New donations

On Tuesday, the Christmas Fund bumped closer to its $500,000 goal thanks to a $500 gift “in memory of our fathers Carl and Joe.”

Hugh Johnston, of Spokane, gave $400, and Norman B. Genung, also of Spokane, gave $250.

Spokane resident Scott L. Davis Jr. gave $111 with a note that read, “I wish for my mother to have a successful recovery from her battle with cancer, I wish for all those in need, and I wish for all nonprofits to survive the economy so that they can continue to serve the Spokane community.”

Three anonymous donors gave $100 each.

Joe Toombs, of Spokane Valley, gave $100 in memory of Lois Toombs.

Also giving $100 each were Dr. and Mrs. Otto Stevens, of Spokane; Bill Bell, of Spokane Valley; Kathryn Sharp and Wayne Bass, of Liberty Lake; and Betty Ellis, of Spokane.

Larry and Sandra Neil, of Spokane, gave $50.

Nancy L. Strite, of Spokane, gave $40.

And giving $25 each were Victor Buksbazen and USA Wrestling Inland Northwest.

Megan Cooley can be reached at (509) 459-5489 or meganc@

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