Many visitors are new to need
Job loss leading some first-timers to charity bureau
Christmas Bureau volunteers say they’re hearing it over and over: Recipients are seeking help from the charity for the first time, often because a family member recently lost a job.
“They feel like they’re out of options,” said volunteer Bonni Atkinson, of Valleyford.
The Christmas Bureau is a 10-day event held at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center that distributes grocery 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.
Volunteer Scooter Mahoney, of Spokane, helped a mother Tuesday who told Mahoney she “ ‘never dreamed I’d be standing here.’ ”
Mahoney told the woman the volunteers were there for everyone, “and there’s no guarantee I won’t be in this line next year,” she said.
When recipients check in, volunteers take down information about their income level and living situation. Anyone can receive help from the bureau, regardless of income, and no one needs to show income documentation, but tracking the data helps the organization better understand the recipients’ needs.
The conversations at those intake tables can be difficult. When the mother reached Mahoney’s station, where food vouchers are distributed, Mahoney could see from the previous volunteer’s notes that the woman was homeless.
“Do I have to say it again?” the recipient asked Mahoney weakly.
“No, honey,” Mahoney assured her. “Your children will get a book, a toy and candy today. And they have you.”
The conversation ended with relief, gratitude and a hug.
Kay Hurst, who has volunteered for the bureau for 12 years, said new recipients often don’t know what they’ll receive from the bureau. One woman came to her table a few years ago expecting only gifts for her children. When Hurst handed her a $30 voucher for groceries, the recipient was surprised and thankful.
“Produce!” said the woman, who wasn’t accustomed to eating fresh food. “That really stuck with me,” said Hurst.
Sometimes divorce leads to recipients’ need. Shannon Shiells, 32, said she never needed help until her husband left her and their four children.
Now the Eastern Washington University psychology major is struggling to make ends meet, staying up until 1 a.m. some nights studying.
“We used to have a ton of gifts on Christmas,” Shiells said. “Now I’m trying to instill in them that giving to others is more important.”
Shiells envisions a day when she’ll be able to give back to the bureau by volunteering her time. For now, though, she’s tired and overwhelmed, but moving forward one day at a time.
“You don’t know how strong you are until you’re tested,” she said.
Thanks to $13,011 in new donations, the Christmas Fund now totals $264,201 and is closer to this year’s $500,000 goal.
Spokane residents Mary Laflamme and Thomas Kasson each sent $1,000.
Kevin West, of MorganStanley SmithBarney, gave $750 in lieu of client gifts.
“I am blessed to help out those in need in our community this holiday season – especially this year,” he said. “Thank you for providing this service to our wonderful community.”
Communication Plus, of Spokane, donated $500 and thanked “all area educators for caring about our children.”
Also giving $500 were Liberty Lake residents Susan Boyd and Linda Ashlock, who thanked the bureau volunteers for their work; Spokane residents Linda and Donn Pattinson; and the Cathcart family, of Colbert.
The following donors gave $300:
Andrea Clausen; Jon and Melva Rand, of Spokane Valley; Peter and Sharon Fairchild, of Liberty Lake, who gave in memory of Robin Lovejoy; Fred and Sharon Clark, of Chattaroy, in memory of Sarah Anne Clark; an anonymous donor, who gave in memory of Mom, Dad and Judy; and Eris Heggem, of Spokane Valley.
An anonymous donor sent $250, as did Spokane residents Burton and Shirley Pendleton; and Mead residents Kim and Jeff Brown, who wrote, “Keep up the wonderful work!”
The following Spokane residents donated $200:
Jim Bingham; Jerry and Paulette Firor; Noreen Sivertson; and Arnold Cohen and Colleen Carey.
Valleyford residents Timothy and M. Camille Schmidt sent $200, as did Bob and Vickie McCann, of Deer Park, who wrote:
“We are hoping every area child has an eye-popping wonder-filled Christmas. Thank you Christmas Fund volunteers!”
Wilbur Yates, of Spokane, gave $160.
An anonymous donor sent $150, as did Spokane residents John and Alexis Chasse; Colbert residents Tom and Nancy Nelson; and Spokane resident Lenore Romney.
Jack and Phyllis Worden, of Spokane, donated $125.
Five anonymous donors sent $100, one in memory of Dorothy Graham.
Blaine Krebs, of Mead, gave $100, as did H.O. Wilson, of Spokane Valley and the following Spokane residents:
David and Maxine Breshears; W.T. and Charlotte Ardiss; Richard and Mary Schroeder; Sharen Robertson, in memory of her husband, Dave Robertson, and grandson Austin McKenzie; Barbara McCowan, in memory of her son, Tim; Michael and Valerie Adams; Robert and Eva Akers; Phyllis Robison; Norm and Deborah Seeberger; Gail Smith and the sons, grandchildren and their families of Guy Smith, in memory of Guy Smith; Lisa and James Northcott, in memory of Andrew; Margie and Ted Byers, in memory of Margie’s father, John L. Cooney, “who always put the needs of others first”; Bob and Mary Morgan, in honor of their grandchildren Matt, John, Lauren, Christine, Tyler, Jennifer and Carly; Maren and Donna Kuest; Robert Breidenbach; John and Kay Feirich; Al and Vicki Falkner, who wrote, “To all the great people at the Christmas Bureau – Merry Christmas!”; Gunhild Clegg, who said giving to the fund is a pleasure every year; and the Spokane Sea Hawkers, a local chapter of the Seattle Seahawks Booster Club, who wrote, “We are proud to help out with your generous charity”; and Rod and Anne Hartman, who divide their time between Spokane and Coulee Dam.
Two anonymous donors gave $95 and $51.60 each.
Six anonymous donors sent $50 each, including one who wrote, “Thank you for the wonderful job you do. May God bless you all,” another who thanked the bureau for making the holidays better for Spokane families, and a third who wished health and happiness to all.
Windermere Real Estate Valley Inc.’s “lunch ladies” gave $50, as did Jill Wilson; Robert Hosking; Spokane Valley residents Raelee Easton; Elnore “Pat” Thompson, who gave in memory of her cousin Ron Gerkensmeyer, who was a Spokesman-Review paper boy in the late 1940s; and the Otis Orchards Women’s Club.
The following Spokane residents also donated $50:
Gary and Linda Williamson, who hoped to make Christmas brighter for recipients; Claude Hire and Marianne Iwash; Dudley Mizoquchi, who gave in memory of John Traynor; Vern and Janice Anderson; Donald Gale Jr.; Loren Weigelt, who volunteered at the bureau for “a number of years before they had a permanent home”; and Valerie Smith and Dan Coyle in memory of Barbara Johnson Loff and Faith Serenity Clarke.
“Barbara was the heart of her family and never more so than at Christmas,” Smith and Coyle wrote. “Faith blessed us with three weeks of life and became part of our hearts.”
Capt. Stephen and Cynthia Leblanc, of Spokane Valley, gave $35. Alene Pokstefl, of Spokane Valley, sent $30, as did Spokane resident Marilyn Miller, who said she hoped to help “our neighbors have a blessed Christmas.”
Russell and Betty Hite, of Spokane Valley, gave $25, as did Kale and Jim Jones, of Spokane, who wished “peace to all”; Arnold and Joyce Thompson; and Roy and Dorothy Wisecarver, of Spokane Valley.
An anonymous donor sent $20, and Lois Hughes, of Spokane, gave $15.
Megan Cooley can be reached at (509) 459-5489 or firstname.lastname@example.org.