For recipients at the Christmas Bureau, making your way through the line can take a couple of hours or more.
As efficiently as the volunteers work, it takes time to input everyone’s name, income level, address and other data.
But the long wait always ends in one happy place: the toy room.
Volunteers set up the room like a store, organizing the gifts by age levels and gender. Recipients walk through a curtain and then “shop” for gifts for their children.
The whole process can be overwhelming, so it’s often when their toys are being bagged up that recipients let out a deep breath, smile and thank the volunteers and donors for their generosity.
Behind the scenes, volunteers busily restock the shelves and assemble some of the more complicated toys, knowing that many of the recipients are single mothers who might not own the tools or have the time to do it themselves.
Sometimes the volunteers have their own share of trouble doing that, too.
“Somebody go get a kid under age 10. They’ll be able to figure this out,” joked one volunteer as four of them tried to assemble a scooter last week.
The Christmas Bureau is a 64-year-old charity organized by The Spokesman-Review, Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America. It distributes grocery vouchers, toys and books to needy families and is funded through donations from the community.
By the end of the bureau’s first week, this year’s hottest toys were apparent. They “sold out” of a Transformers toy, a body lotion set for teenagers and a pink plastic vanity where young girls can sit and play dress-up. Other items were nearly gone.
“The Hannah Montana doll is going like wildfire,” said toy buyer Judy Thies. “The scooters are going quickly and so are the MP3 players.”
Take one look at the line of recipients and it’s clear that the people who come for help in the Spokane community are more ethnically diverse than the general population.
The volunteers consider that when choosing the year’s toys so that some of those children can play with dolls that look like them. This year, there is a black Barbie, a black baby doll and a black cheerleader doll that says cheers when you press a button.
“You try to keep up with that,” said Thies, but by the end of the 10 days, she said, those dolls are usually gone and black parents who come through on the final days often question why the bureau didn’t order any.
“We say, ‘We did, and we’ll order more next year,’ ” Thies said.
Donations of $16,350 bumped the Christmas Fund to $196,034, moving it closer to the $500,000 goal.
Cochrane & Company, of Spokane, gave the fund a big boost with its $7,500 donation.
“During one of the most difficult economic times in recent memory, we are at war and we are reminded daily of tragedy and hardship,” wrote Executive Vice President Brian Carney. “Despite and because of all this, the people here at Cochrane & Company believe there should be a strong focus on children, family, community good will, generosity and thankfulness.”
Allan, Ronda, Andrea and Melissa Moorehead, of Spokane Valley, gave $1,500.
Spokane residents Robert and Harriet Goebel sent $1,200 and wrote, “No one should be hungry or cold in this great country. Merry Christmas.”
Donna Hares, of Spokane, sent $500 in memory of her husband, Donald W. Hares.
“This was Don’s favorite charity as it is mine to give to,” she wrote.
The South Side Newcomers gave $400. “The need to help this year is even greater than other years,” wrote treasurer Anne Turner. “Keep up the good work.”
Gary W. Miller, of Spokane, donated $400 in memory of his parents, Margaret and Lonnie Miller.
Kenneth Waters, of Spokane, sent $300.
Tim and Darlene Holliday, of Spokane, gave $250 in memory of Russell “Air Hoss” Holliday.
Two anonymous donors sent $250.
Spokane residents Ken and Victoria Ferro gave $250, as did Spokane residents Frank and Sondra Lee Cook who are “new to town and happy to add to the Christmas Fund pot.”
Also donating $250 were Christy and Tom Hamilton, of Colbert, and Spokane Valley resident Yvonne Hayes, who gave in the names of Craig and Donna Maitlens, of Woodinville, grandchildren Ashley, Kori Rae and Ryan, friend and caregiver Paula Crowe, and in memory of her parents, Ernie Eilersick and Georgia Ellersick Niemi.
“How wonderful this fund is and I pray the goal is achieved as it is so much needed,” Hayes wrote.
Nine Mile Falls resident Jean Rose sent $200, as did Deer Park residents Dennis and Nola Koesel; Spokane residents Carl and Anna Rabe and Spokane resident Virginia Harger, who wrote, “Thank you for the wonderful service you provide for our community. Happy holidays to all.”
Delbert and Ruth Mattix, of Spokane Valley, gave $150 and wished a merry Christmas to families in need.
Gary and Vicki Erickson, of Medical Lake, donated $125.
Three anonymous donors sent $100 each, as did Rockford residents Dave and Karen Trejbal; Spokane Valley residents Joan and Don Morse; and Spokane residents Kathleen Manning; Keith and Sara Gehr; Helen Marksbury, who gave in memory of her husband, Bob, and brother-in-law, Phil; Edmunds; Ann Sanders; and John and Dolores Skelton.
Jacqueline Whipps, of Spokane, gave $60 in memory of her parents, Virgil and Edna Whipps.
For the second year, George and Barbara Stevens and their grown children chose to forgo gifts and donate to charities instead. With a donation of $60, the Stevenses included the Christmas Bureau in a list of five charities they support.
“We would just love to nudge more people to do the same,” the Stevenses wrote. “This year will be our second-in-a-row Best Christmas Ever.”
An anonymous donor sent $50, as did Spokane Valley resident Ray Kensok and Spokane residents Ann Feken and Mary Clarizio in memory of Robert Weaver; Joan Pribnow; and Kenneth Duncan.
Betty Wolf, of Spokane Valley, donated $30, as did Evelyn Graves, of Medical Lake; and Hans and Gladys Johnson, of Spokane.
An anonymous donor sent $25, as did Spokane Valley resident Loretta Thompson and Spokane residents Gail Kiser; Jean Rabe; and Jacqueline Taylor.
Two anonymous donors sent $20, one in memory of John Devlin and one with a card that read:
“Thank you for all you do with the Christmas Fund. May you always be there for those in need.”
There are two in-kind donations to report:
Lowe’s home improvement store gave the bureau a large carpet remnant to use in the play area where children go while their parents choose gifts in the toy room. The previous carpet provider had to cancel its contribution, and Lowe’s came through at the last minute, said Christmas Bureau coordinator Theresa Dryden.
“And it’s a great carpet,” she said.
The carpet will be stored after the bureau closes and used for several years.
An anonymous person delivered 24 hardback books with read-along CDs and DVDs.