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Generosity spans more than 60 years

Fund began by helping one disabled vet

Since it began 64 years ago, the basic elements of The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund have remained the same.

Men, women and children have opened their wallets and hearts to help people they don’t know enjoy a brighter Christmas.

Without judging – or even asking about – the circumstances that led recipients to a position where they need their neighbors’ help, donors generously give, year after year.

Catholic Charities Executive Director Rob McCann expects to serve a record number of people this year at the Christmas Bureau.

“This year especially, with so many poor, working poor and unemployed, the bureau represents folks’ best chance at salvaging something for their family at Christmas,” he said.

In 1945, the first Christmas Fund – although it wasn’t called that yet – was for just one person: Bill Schwenk.

Schwenk was a GI who lost his sight, one arm below the elbow and the use of his other hand in a mine explosion in Germany.

Janet Campbell, a Red Cross worker from Spokane who was stationed in North Wales during World War II, wrote to her hometown newspaper about Schwenk’s condition, asking residents to help cover the costs of a prosthetic hand and a guide dog.

The community came through with $18,000.

The following year, the newspaper raised money for an 8-year-old girl named Carol Lee Davis, who had been born premature with malfunctioning lungs. The girl’s widowed mother couldn’t afford the surgery needed to restore her health.

As it does today, the newspaper printed donors’ names and some comments sent in on cards. One donor from Kellogg wrote:

“Dear Carol Lee: I am 7 years old. I have been ill, too. I am sending you one dollar that my grandmother gave me for Christmas. My Christmas love to you.”

In 1949, the community raised $10,000 for 13 widows and children of Spokane-based Air Force crewmen killed in a midair collision that November.

Eventually, the Christmas Fund evolved into a program that helped more than one individual, family or group. In 1976, organizers defined the bureau’s mission: “To make Christmas a brighter day by providing help with Christmas dinner and a new toy or game for each child 18 years and younger.”

And so it is today.

Organizers estimate 32,040 people will walk through the bureau doors between Dec. 9 and 19. The people seeking the grocery vouchers, toys and books that are distributed won’t have to show proof of income or explain why they’re there.

Recipients need only bring photo identification for every adult (18 years and older) living in their household; proof of a current address, such as the latest utility bill or rent receipt; and proof of the children living at the address, such as medical coupons or a letter from the child’s school. Social Security cards can’t be accepted as identification.

The bureau will open Wednesday and run from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dec. 9-12 and Dec. 14-19. It’s located in the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, 404 N. Havana St.

Recipients will be given one food voucher per address, one book and one other book per child, and candy. The grocery vouchers will range from $18 to $40, depending on the family’s size.

Thanks to $3,335 in new donations, this year’s Christmas Fund now totals $53,545. That’s about $4,000 more than the average for this day over the past several years but almost $40,000 less than what had been donated by this point in 2008.

McCann said he’s “prayerfully hopeful” that the Spokane community will come through, even in a year of across-the-board economic hardship.

“Spokane is a place that has figured out … we won’t be judged by the height of our skyscrapers or the size of our receipts but by how we treated the least among us,” he said. “We’re good at that in this community, and it makes me proud to live here.”

New donations

The Early Ford V-8 Club of America, Inland Empire Group, of Spokane Valley, gave $1,000.

An anonymous donor sent $500. The Bach family, of Spokane, gave $400. Gary and Sharon Randall, of Colbert, donated $225 in honor of their parents, Presley and Margaret Cleveland and Les and Clara Randall.

David and Kay Stoltz, of Spokane, gave $200. Richard and Lucille Hallett, of Spokane, sent $165.

An anonymous donor sent $150 with a note: “It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to such a worthwhile cause. Merry Christmas and God bless you.”

Spokane resident Lois Richards donated $125.

Sharon Boyer, of Spokane Valley, sent $100 “to aid in giving Christmas to children.”

Also giving $100 were Clarence I. Paulsen III, Cheney residents Ralph and Sandra Laws, and Rathdrum resident Leslie Dieckman.

The Pieroni family, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of “our beloved husband, father and grandfather, Jules Pieroni.”

An anonymous donor sent $25, as did Spokane resident Marie Holliday, who donated in memory of her husband, Uhel E. Holliday Jr.

Robert Potts, of Spokane, gave $20.

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

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