Although she grew up in Spokane, Crystal Ugolini had never heard of the Christmas Bureau before last week.
Ugolini and her husband moved back to Spokane from Georgia this year, after he ended his military career. With five children – including a 9-year-old with autism and a 1-year-old with a bone disease and a deformed leg – the couple have their hands full. They work opposite shifts so one of them is always with the children, and their budget is tight.
“We used all our money to get across the country,” Ugolini said. “We weren’t sure how to pay rent and do Christmas this year.”
Thanks to the bureau – and the volunteers and donors behind it – the Ugolini children will enjoy a nice Christmas, she said.
“You’ve got to wonder what Christmas is like for them,” Ugolini said through tears, of the volunteers and donors, “and if they realize how good they make it for the rest of us.”
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.
The bureau closed for the year Saturday, after serving a record number of people.
People who have lost their jobs. People who struggle to find work due to mental health problems or other challenges. People who started life in poverty and are still trying to find a way out.
Thanks to the generosity of the Spokane community, Christmas for this year’s 35,883 recipients – 17,877 of whom were children – will shine a bit brighter.
“Thank you, everyone!” shouted Spokane resident Charlie Harpold, as he walked out of the bureau Friday, waving an $18 grocery voucher and a bag of candy over his head.
“I got a Christmas gift,” Harpold said, grinning broadly. “I’m grateful, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had one.”
Harpold was evicted from his apartment in September, is living at the Union Gospel Mission now and recently landed a job that starts in two weeks.
While most donations come through the mail, at least three donors dropped by the bureau Saturday with checks.
Jeff and Cindee Corrick, of Spokane, gave $1,500 and then left the building arm in arm.
“It’s an eye-opener,” Jeff said.
The Corricks don’t have children and don’t exchange gifts with one another, instead giving money to local programs such as Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, food banks and now, for the first time, the Christmas Bureau.
“We get a lot more out of this” than they’d get from trading presents, Cindee said, with tears welling in her eyes.
Thanks to $18,066 in new donations, the Christmas Fund now totals $319,868. The new checks moved the fund closer to the $500,000 goal, but the year is drawing to a close and the gap between the two numbers is large.
Avista Corp. gave the fund a big boost with a $10,000 donation.
“We’ve seen firsthand the challenges so many in our area are facing this year,” wrote Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Morris. “We all are particularly saddened by the growing number of people who, for the first time, are struggling to meet their families’ needs because they have recently lost their jobs or are otherwise impacted by the rising costs of everything from food to energy.”
Morris thanked the bureau for the chance for the community to “do what it does best: come together to make a tangible and meaningful difference in the lives of others.”
Merle Lepouce, of Spokane, donated $3,000.
Denise and Peter Stanton, of Spokane, gave $1,000 in memory of Rob Copeland and Rick Scammell.
Drs. Hood, Dodson and Walpole, and employees of Evergreen Cosmetic & Family Dentistry in Spokane Valley, sent $500 “on behalf of all of our wonderful patients.”
BPS Supply Co. Inc., of Spokane, gave $500 on behalf of its employees and customers.
Spokane residents Valerie and Mark Sonderen donated $500 and thanked the bureau for the opportunity to help people “during this holy Christmas season. Thanks to all the volunteers and staff that make the Christmas Bureau happen!”
Laborers’ Local No. 238, of Spokane, donated $300, as did Paul J. Allison, of Spokane Valley.
Dr. William and Patricia Houff, of Spokane, sent $250, and Scott and Sarah Creighton, of Spokane Valley, gave $225.
An anonymous donor sent $200.
Order Sons of Italy in America’s Spokane Lodge No. 2172 donated $200.
“We truly appreciate the work you and your volunteers do to provide for needy families,” wrote club President Holli Parker.
Fitzgerald Realtors and Pampered Pets, of Spokane, gave $150, as did Spokane resident Shirley Ann Walters, who wrote, “My husband Marvin believed in this Christmas Fund, so in honor of him accept this gift.”
John and Erna Vinje, of Spokane, donated $135 in the names of their daughters, Prasti Vinje Purduh, of Lakewood, Ohio; Astrid Vinje Bush, of Alexandria, Va.; and Michelle Vinje, of Seattle.
“We’ve lived in Spokane almost 17 years. The children’s Christmas Fund is a wonderful endeavor,” the Vinjes wrote.
An anonymous donor sent $116 and thanked the bureau for its service during a time of great need.
Two anonymous donors gave $100 each, one in memory of Jane Manning and Janet Eiden.
Spokane residents Jim and Anne Pearson gave $100, as did Mead residents Robert and Lois Banta; and Paul and Melanie Delaney and Bill Cunz in honor of their parents Herb and Jeanette Cunz, “who loved to help others at Christmas.”
Carol Phelps, of Spokane, donated $75.
An anonymous donor sent $50, as did Spokane residents Jim and Barb Christie; Deer Park resident A.V. Hastings; and Spokane residents James and Muriel Tuttle.
An anonymous donor gave $25.
Spokane Valley resident Margot Wilson sent $20, as did Konny Thompson, of Spokane.
Hunter and Deborah Bried, of Coeur d’Alene, donated 287 picture books and young adult novels to the bureau. The couple recently closed The Book & Bean, a Coeur d’Alene coffee shop and children’s bookstore they ran for two years. The books were what remained of the business.
The donation was valued at about $3,000.