The 2009 Christmas Bureau will shut its doors today after 10 days of service to the Spokane area’s neediest families.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Msgr. Frank Bach, a retired Catholic priest who has been involved with the bureau since 1964, will close his own chapter. Bach, 79, is stepping down as one of the program’s volunteer organizers.
“Everyone’s going to hate to see him go,” said volunteer toy buyer Judy Thies, who has known Bach for 30 years. “He’s loving and caring and sensitive and sensible.”
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.
Bach said the bureau is a place where people have felt cared for and respected since the service began in 1945.
“The Christmas Bureau carries out the challenge the Lord put out, to reach out to the poor, the hurting,” he said.
Bach’s first role with the bureau was an administrative one. He was director of Catholic Charities from 1964 to 1978. In the beginning of his tenure there, the three organizations ran separate but similar programs for the needy every Christmas.
“We got together in the same building and would set up shop,” Bach recalled. “There was a lot of duplication.”
Bach credits longtime Spokesman-Review journalist Dorothy Powers with leading an effort to better organize the agencies. In about 1974, “it became more sophisticated,” he said.
Still, there were challenges. Organizers didn’t want to pay rent on a building, so the bureau’s location changed each year, depending on which grocery or department store building happened to be vacant.
“It was a happy mess, but it was a mess,” Bach said.
Some years, the bureau was held in downtown Spokane.
“People would come in and get a $20 (grocery) voucher and then go outside and get a $10 parking ticket,” he said.
About 10 years ago, The Spokesman-Review began paying to rent the fairgrounds’ Agricultural Building. But during those years of rotating locations, unheated and unattractive warehouses and non-computerized check-in systems, Bach said it was Volunteers of America Executive Director Ken Trent who unified and inspired the volunteers.
“Ken Trent, for years, was the spirit of the Christmas Bureau,” Bach said. “He had a great love for the poor.”
It’s difficult to get Bach to talk about himself, but for two years he was the Christmas Bureau coordinator, back when it was an unpaid, volunteer position. Today, a Catholic Charities employee serves in that role, because the bureau requires months of preparation.
He also spent nine years as parish priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Spokane Valley and 17 years working in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane’s administration.
At the bureau, Bach’s most recent post has been head coffee maker, although his role goes far beyond just brewing beans. His apprentice, Tony Wadden, called Bach “an inspiration.”
“If he misses time at the bureau, it’s because he’s doing marriage counseling or a funeral,” Wadden said.
Bach said he might stop by the bureau once or twice next year to say hello, but he won’t play an active role. Still, fellow volunteers said it’s difficult to imagine the priest – who supposedly retired 12 years ago – slowing down.
“I’ve been blessed with health and energy,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is sit at home and watch television.”
The bureau served 2,653 people Friday, distributing $25,857 worth of food vouchers and 1,160 toys for children.
Friday’s numbers pushed the total number of people served this year to more than 33,000, setting a record for the bureau with one more full day to go.
“We’re restocking now,” Christmas Bureau coordinator Theresa Dryden said late Friday afternoon. “Those numbers are high for the second-to-last day.”
Earlier Friday, volunteers made trips to local toy stores, buying more gifts for children as the options for various age groups dwindled.
Thanks to $23,059 in new donations, the Christmas Fund now totals $301,802 and is closer to this year’s $500,000 goal.
American West Bank/Far West Bank, of Spokane, gave $5,000, and the bank’s Chief Executive Officer Patrick Rusnak, with his wife, Kelley, made a private donation of $1,000.
Acme Concrete Paving Inc., of Spokane, donated $5,000 “to help make a bright and joyful Christmas for the little ones.”
Colvico Inc., of Spokane, sent $1,000, as did an anonymous donor, who gave in honor of Tom and Lori Huling.
Rich, Carol and Scott Hendershot, of Spokane, gave $1,000 and wrote: “We were blessed this past year in many ways. We are grateful to be able to share with others. Merry Christmas.”
M.J. Takisaki Inc. sent $300 to match the $200 donation of employee Steve Irwin and $100 donation of employee Hal Ophus.
Three anonymous donors gave $500, as did Fred and Norrine Potts, of Spokane.
The following donors sent $300:
Paul Allison; Larry and Joanna Kiewert, of Deer Park; Claude and Mable Mitson, of Spokane; Dennis and Jan McMann, of Newport; and Judy and Robert Lee, of Spokane, who gave in memory of their grandson, Austin McKenzie, mother, Catherine Lee, and father, Ken Smith.
The Inland Empire Nurses Association donated $250, as did Anupam Narayan and an anonymous donor.
Modern Construction & Consulting Services LLC, of Spokane, gave $200 and wrote:
“Providing others with seasonal cheer and hope for the new year can make a difference in our Spokane community.”
Also giving $200 were:
Spokane resident Flo Fiveash; Hauser, Idaho, residents David and Karen Crouse; Liberty Lake residents John and Janet Hooper in honor of their 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren; and an anonymous donor.
North Star Lodge No. 145, a 101-year-old Swedish-American fraternal organization, sent $150, as did Karen and Steve Heaps, of Spokane Valley, and an anonymous donor.
Two anonymous donors gave $100 each, one in memory of her parents, including her father, who used to volunteer for the bureau.
Also giving $100 were Diane Notske; Timothy Halpin; Ferlin Denison, who gave on behalf of Colville resident Jean Holland; Colbert residents Samuel and Frederika Wetterhus, in memory of their son Dale, niece Nancy and great-niece Danielle; Liberty Lake residents Todd and Lesley Greiner; and Liberty Lake residents Fred and Jacquelyn Aronow, in honor of their eight grandchildren.
“We wish everyone peace and joy, health and happiness, today and in all the days ahead,” the Aronows wrote.
The following Spokane Valley residents gave $100:
Lowell and Shirley Mouser, who wished “Merry Christmas to all!”; Mike and Debbie Dahl; Mary Cameron; Edward and Ethel Fisk; Jaynie Hansen; and Richard and Kaye Dickerson.
The following Spokane residents donated $100:
Michael and Gail Gurian; John and Kathleen McCarthy, who gave “in appreciation for all the volunteers who so generously give their time and talents to make a brighter Christmas for the less fortunate”; Peter and Beth Weller; and Bob and Peggy Frank. The Wellers and Franks thanked the bureau for its service to the community.
An anonymous donor sent $60 “in loving memory of my family.”
Three anonymous donors gave $50 each, as did Colbert resident Kathleen Hull; Spokane Valley resident Jennifer Calvert; and Spokane residents Barbara and Michael Simmons; Susan and Steven Anderson; and P.P. and Molly Lynch.
Joyce and Bonnie donated $40 in memory of Jim and Billie Rae.
Robert Stevens sent $35 in memory of Peggy Sanders.
Rich and Mary Hedrick, of Spokane, gave $34. Mary wrote:
“My mother passed away last year. This was the last money of my parents’ bank account. What a great way to spend it. They are nodding their heads and approving – all the way from heaven!”
The following donors sent $30:
Shirley Schoenleber, of Spokane Valley; Janet Walker, of Colbert; and Francis and Agnes Gonder, of Spokane Valley.
An anonymous donor sent $25, as did Kim and Sheri Barnard, of Spokane; Christine Bieker and Theodore Stetzik, of Spokane; Patrick and Laurie Ferrell, of Mead; Curt and Mary Jo Lorenz, of Chattaroy; and Charles and Linda Ellis, of Spokane Valley, in honor of their grandson Jordan’s achievements in karate and school.
“Good job! And may he continue to be his best,” the Ellises wrote.
An anonymous donor sent $20 in memory of Rick Shulman, the late husband of Christmas Bureau co-chairwoman Yvonne Shulman. Laura Slentz, of Spokane, also gave $20.
Brent Stambaugh donated $4.