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Christmas Bureau’s shoppers on top of what’s hot

Toy buyers follow trends, make classic picks, too

Their Christmas list is 18,000 people long – and they were finished in June.

Eight hundred toy trucks? Five hundred Barbies? Six hundred sleds?

Check, check, check.

With help from local retailers, the Christmas Bureau orders in bulk at discounted prices.

But they don’t skimp on quality. The buyers know parents often overcome transportation, child care and time challenges to wait in line at the bureau. They also know a toy selected at the bureau may be the only one a child receives.

“We have to make it worth their time, a desirable toy,” said Reesie Smith, who worked with fellow volunteers Judy Theis and Janelle Kortlever to order the toys. “We don’t want a bunch of junk.”

Buyers study dozens of catalogs and the previous year’s numbers to determine how many toys to order. Striving for variety within each age group – newborns to 17-year-olds are eligible for one toy each – the bureau’s “toy room” gives parents about 10 options for each child. Children can wait in the child care area while parents select their gifts, which are bagged as families leave, or they can help their parents. The bureau, a group effort by the Volunteers of America, Catholic Charities Spokane and The Spokesman-Review, also provides one book for each child and grocery vouchers for individuals and families.

The toy room always stocks some popular standards – sleds, remote-control cars, telescopes or microscopes for the scientific kids, sports equipment, baby dolls.

Buyers also try to predict the season’s hot toys months in advance, touring toy stores and looking for cultural clues such as box office hits. That has worked in previous years, like when the “Toy Story” movies were big and Woody and Buzz Lightyear were the talk of the playground. But, even in May, the toy buyers were too late for “Avatar”-related merchandise. Suppliers were out of all things Na’vi.

It’s a balancing act to keep the shelves stocked with options without creating piles of leftovers – especially when crowds are big even on the bureau’s final day (1,065 toys went out the door on the bureau’s last day last year). When supplies do run low, buyers run to local retailers to restock. If they’re lucky, they can get close-to-Christmas clearance prices.

The toy buyers have a big job, but it’s one they enjoy.

“For me it’s like shopping for my grandkids,” Kortlever said. “How fun is that?”

New donations

Thanks to gifts from community members, the Christmas Fund tally rises today to $35,880.92.

An anonymous couple from Spokane donated $1,500.

Lily May Emert and Annette Seubert, of Spokane, donated $500.

A couple from Spokane donated $500 and wrote: “Please accept this gift to help meet the needs of our community. We are grateful to participate and choose to remain anonymous.”

Peter and Gay Witherspoon, of Spokane, donated $400.

Steve and Judy Mongelluzzo, of Spokane, donated $250, as did an anonymous donor from Spokane.

Jan D’Arc, of Coeur d’Alene, donated $200, as did St. Joseph Catholic Church in Metaline Falls; Christina Marino and Phillip Jones, of Spokane; and Sandra Hatch, of Spokane, who wrote: “Thanks for keeping a wonderful, generous tradition alive – to benefit so many!”

Catherine Lundberg, of Spokane, donated $150.

Ralph and Sandra Laws, of Cheney, gave $100. They wrote: “For the past few years we have donated $50. We have not been affected by the recession – we thought we should do more for those that have.”

Also donating $100 were Sharon and Skip Boyer, of Spokane Valley; “Bob G., a friend of Bill W.”; and Spokane residents Jack Redinger; Bruce and Sharon Anthony; Otto and Shirley Stevens; and William and Donna Harsell.

An anonymous donor dropped off $100 in memory of Patti Fowler.

Brian and Janet Ladyman, of Spokane, sent $100 and a note: “Thank you for making it possible for us to help others.”

Gene and Jackie La Liberte, of Liberty Lake, donated $50. Also giving $50 were Spokane residents Deb Walter; Lynda Bowman; Dorene Bailey; two separate anonymous donors; Tim and Marcia Dorwin; and Ewing and Olevia Page.

Alene Pokstefl, of Greenacres, donated $50, as did Steve, Gail and Ben Quaid, of Colbert, Wash.

Nancy Hood, of Spokane Valley, donated $50. She wrote: “Thanks to the Christmas Fund for making it easy for me to contribute to my community.” An anonymous donor from Spokane Valley sent $50 “in memory of my son Jim and in honor of my other sons.”

Roy and Rene Penna, of Cheney, gave $50 in honor of Rene’s mother, Helen Lindell. “She passed away in May at 89 years,” Rene wrote. “She loved the holidays and would want to make someone else’s life a little brighter.”

Irving and Jeanine Kiehn, of Spokane, donated $40.

An anonymous donor from Spokane gave $35.

Jackie and Blane Silvey, of Spokane, donated $30.

Evelyn Graves gave $30 in honor of her husband, William H. Graves.

Marilyn Bauer, of Spokane, sent $25, as did Dan Mulrine, of Spokane. The McCoys, of Veradale, also donated $25.

Greg and Illa Jean Swanson, of Spokane Valley, donated $15, as did an anonymous donor from Spokane.

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