To Mary Helen Black, volunteering at the Christmas Bureau is a family affair.
The Catholic Charities board member works side by side with her daughters Shannon Flaherty and Meghan MacOmber, sister Chrissy Middendorp, husband Bob Black, and nieces Marla and Carly Wessels. Mary Helen’s son can’t be there because he lives in Seattle, but he sends a donation, “because he knows how important this is to me,” she said.
Mary Helen Black said she and her late husband, Mark Flaherty, raised their children to feel compassion and show care for other people throughout the year, but volunteering at the bureau puts the family in the Christmas spirit.
“You see 33,000 Santas putting their pride on the floor for their kids,” she said, “and they leave with a toy they can be proud to give their kids on Christmas morning.”
The Christmas Bureau is a 10-day event held at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center that distributes food vouchers, toys and books to needy families. It’s organized by The Spokesman-Review, Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America and is funded by donations from the community.
A handful of families volunteer together, including Theresa Utesch and her two grown children.
The Spokane Valley family became involved in the bureau when her son, Matt, was in middle school.
“To be in the honor society, you had to do some sort of community service,” Utesch recalled. “We just did a couple of evenings (the first year), and then we kept coming back.”
Matt Utesch is 20 now and a junior at Eastern Washington University. His sister Jamie, 22, said she volunteers to help make the holidays a bit brighter for people in need.
“The unemployment rate is so high,” Jamie said, adding that her boyfriend’s employer recently laid him off. “It can affect anyone.”
Theresa Utesch said volunteering at the bureau has taught her children “to look at everybody as individuals and not to stereotype.”
The Utesches have the job of bagging up toys after recipients have made their way through all the stations at the bureau.
“I ask them, ‘Did you find what you were looking for?’ And a lot of them say, ‘I found exactly what my kid has been asking for,’ ” Matt Utesch said.
He said his reward for giving time at the bureau is the gratitude of the recipients. “Sometimes it’s the look on their face and other times they express it with words, but you can tell they’re truly thankful.”
The bureau served 2,857 people Tuesday, distributing $27,088 worth of food vouchers and 1,369 toys for children.
“Despite the (snowy) weather … it was a higher turnout than we thought it would be,” said Christmas Bureau Coordinator Theresa Dryden.
The average monthly income of the households represented Tuesday was $1,017.
Thanks to $36,468 in new donations, the Christmas Fund now totals $250,957 – halfway to this year’s $500,000 goal.
An anonymous donor gave $5,000 and wrote, “May God bless each and everyone this donation helps. Thank you for helping our fellow community members.”
The Spokane law firm Douglas, Eden, Phillips, DeRuyter & Stanyer also sent $5,000 and said, “In these turbulent economic times, we are very thankful for our jobs. We are also grateful for the opportunity to share with those who are not so fortunate this Christmas season.”
Rings & Things, a Spokane wholesale business that serves craft makers, jewelers and bead stores, donated $4,000 to the fund through a voluntary payroll deduction from workers and a match from the company’s owners.
“We are reminded daily that too many people in our community do not have an adequate income or decent housing,” wrote owners Russ Nobbs and Dee Mueller. “We hope that our contribution will help the Christmas Bureau to make this a holiday filled with sharing and joy for more of our neighbors in Spokane.”
Kilgore Construction Inc., of Spokane, sent $2,500.
An anonymous donor gave $2,000 and wrote, “You fill a huge void for a lot of people. Keep it up!”
Bill and Sharon Bronson, of Spokane Valley, donated $1,000.
An anonymous donor sent $600.
Two anonymous donors gave $500 each, and one wrote, “Hello to all good workers at the Christmas Bureau. Thanks and God bless.”
Colbert residents George and Carol Sullivan donated $500 in memory of Iva and Skip Louderback.
Nathan and Bonnie Narrance, of Colbert, gave $500 in memory of friends and family who “have moved on to the next camp,” including son Ken, friends John Denbeigh, Jerry Lake and Ray Stankey. The Spokane Shadle Lions Club also sent $500.
The following Spokane residents donated $500:
Helen and Robert Shanewise; Robert and Jean Kendall; the Delbert Spear family, who wrote, “It’s a joy to share our blessings”; and Diane and Ron Kaufman, who said, “Merry Christmas.”
Walter and Ruth Cummings, of Spokane, gave $400.
Spokane resident Nancy Edwards donated $300, as did the family of the late H. Earl Davis in his memory; Spokane Valley residents Robert and Mary Alice Jones in memory of Marybelle Clark and Evelyn Phillips; and Mead residents Bruce and Carol Pierre, in memory of John, Rosemary and Lori Bacon, “who are deeply missed, especially at Christmas.”
Spokane residents Daniel and Theresa Lennon sent $250, as did an anonymous donor; Seven F, of Spokane; Liberty Lake resident Richard Steury; and Spokane resident Barry Bergau in the name of Debbie and Terry Montgomery.
“We donate to favorite charities instead of exchanging Christmas gifts,” Bergau wrote. “God bless.”
Three anonymous donors gave $200 each, as did Pullman residents Eric and Judy Spangenberg; Spokane Valley residents Wesley and Dorothy Newbill; and Liberty Lake residents Kevin and Carol Person.
The following Spokane residents sent $200:
Tudy and Larry Hatch; Eugene and Judy Olsen; Ted and Barbara Morse; and Bud and Bonnie Nelson, who wrote, “What a blessing you are to the citizens of our city.”
Three anonymous donors sent $150 each, as did Mike and Kathy Eaton, of Spokane.
Susan Persyn, of Priest River, Idaho, gave $128 in memory of Auzzie Watson, who died at age 4, would have been 39 this year and was “generous with his toys,” and in memory of Aunt Editha Reed, who died Nov. 22 at age 89 and was “generous with her love.”
Pam and Randy, of Spokane, donated $125, as did Ken and Susan Pelton, of Spokane, and Erlene Manning, of Spokane.
William and Thelma Johnson, of Heron, Mont., sent $115, and Jerri and Edward Murphy gave $110.
Eight anonymous donors sent $100 each, including one in memory of June; another in memory of “my husband and granddaughter, who were always helping others”; a third who thanked the bureau for its good work; and a fourth who gave in the name of Drs. Richard Bale, Carol Wysham, Mathew Rawlins, Mel Lindauer and staff, Stephen Willis, Katherine Leftler and Theresa Foresman.
“I received the most welcome Christmas present from my doctors. They say I am healthy. To honor them, I want to make a donation where it will help the most,” the donor wrote.
Inspiration, a barbershop quartet that sang at the bureau on opening day, donated $100, as did Liberty Lake residents Dick and Dee Solberg; Gary and Denise Copenhaver; Spokane Valley residents Lee and Kathryn Irving; Glenna Bayne, in memory of Brian, who “praised your organization for doing so much with so little”; Nine Mile Falls residents Scott and Tracy Bowker; Charmaine Tijssen, of Bayview, Idaho; and Carole Austin, of Colbert, who gave in memory of her parents, Alice and Ray LaGesse.
The following Spokane residents sent $100 each:
Joan McLean, in memory of her mother, Julia A. MacDonald; Ralph and Catherine Coston; Susan Dankovich and Ken and Wills Raymond; the Ya-Ya Bunco Broads, who gave their December prize money; Sharon Grimmer; Brent and Janine Carlson; Mark Anderson and Joni Stein; Teri Hansen, who gave in memory of her mother, Eileen Hansen; Larry and Kathleen Treffry; Christine Gamble, in memory of her husband, Jim, “who enjoyed the Christmas season and wanted to help the fund”; Roy and Jackie Howerton; Elinor Iverson, in memory of Jack Iverson; Donna Troyer; Bill and Rita Leinweber; Al and Gerrie Schlosser; Donna and Del Topoll; Don and Vicki Gorder; Lois Critzer; Tom and Mary Lacy; Helen Bell; Bruce and Susan Anthony; Catherine Rice; and Sarah Wasicek, in memory of her second cousin, Franklin Warren Doolittle, who died Dec. 4.
“(Doolittle) was the apple of his families’ eyes,” Wasicek wrote. “Our only comfort is that he is spending eternity in heaven with Jesus.”
The Rockford Women’s Club sent $75 for “those who need extra help this Christmas.” Anonymous donors also donated $75, in memory of their parents.
Charles and Peggy Estey, of Spokane, gave $60.
Steve and Janis Reed donated $55 “to help provide a brighter season for those less fortunate.”
Six anonymous donors sent $50, one in memory of parents Joy and Chuck White.
Also sending $50 were Mead resident Dixie Riddle; Lynnwood resident Michael Mason; the Zion Lutheran Church, of Fairfield; Jeff and Debbi Williams, of Suncrest; Bette and Don Gremier, of Chattaroy; and Spokane Valley resident Don Bettinger.
The following Spokane residents gave $50:
Dean and Luella Palmer; Suzanne and Tony Bamonte, who gave in memory of their father and father-in-law, Al Schaeffer, a loyal contributor to the fund; W. Lynn and Susan Axton; Howard and Muriel Davis; Gaylord and Elizabeth Hill; Phyllis Eide, in honor of her mother, Jacqueline, “who has always known how to keep Christmas in her heart all year long”; Bonnie Orcutt; Marylin and Meryl Bauer; Tom Mewborn; Roberta Fiala, who wished “happy holidays to those in need”; and Margaret Pansie, in memory of her husband, Richard Pansie.
“Merry Christmas to all you wonderful people!” Pansie wrote. “God’s richest blessings to you all.”
An anonymous donor sent $45. Linnea Carlson, of Spokane, gave $40. George Prescott, of Colbert, donated $35.
“Grandma P” sent $30 in recognition of her great-grandchildren.
“I hope this will help other little ones receive a gift from Santa,” she wrote.
Ruth Miller and C. Mackay, of Spokane, donated $30, as did Angela Lalonde.
Two anonymous donors sent $25, one who hoped the gift “can help a child smile.”
Also giving $25 were June Lawson; Spokane Valley residents Roger and Pat French, and the following Spokane residents:
Steven and Wanda Daehlin; Barbara and Michael Dooley; Thomas Pope; L. Earl Reeves; Barbara and Larry Anderson; Ann Carey and Patty Rabel, who gave in memory of their father, Ken Rabel; Mazie and Ziva “in appreciation of our many blessings”; Dianne Payne; and Kim Rose and her cat Ms. Lala.
“We hope this donation will help families feed their pets and buy a toy or two. God bless,” Rose wrote.
An anonymous donor sent $20, as did Jackie and Blane Silvey, of Spokane, and Barbara Farrell.
Two anonymous donors gave $10 each.