When it comes to the weather, all Christmas Bureau coordinators can do is pray – and, failing that, plan for all conditions.
“We call in all our favors with God for the year and say, ‘OK, please, for 10 days let’s have weather in the 40 degrees,’ ” said Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities Spokane.
God might meet them partway. The subzero temperatures the region experienced in November are unlikely to return in December, said John Livingston, meteorologist in charge of Spokane’s National Weather Service bureau. The weather service is forecasting highs in the upper 30s in its Dec. 9-15 outlook, normal temperatures for this time of year.
The service also forecasts above-normal precipitation.
“My best advice at this point is to be prepared for more of the same,” Livingston said Thursday, as pedestrians and vehicles lurched through wintry slosh under a solid-gray sky. “It could be sloppy. It could be snowy. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be bitter cold.”
The bureau served nearly 36,000 people last year. Some residents walk to the bureau, held in the Ag Building at the Spokane County fairgrounds, and many wait at bus stops. After they arrive, there’s at least an hourlong wait outdoors.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to freeze in the Christmas Bureau experience,” McCann said.
The bureau closed for two days in 2008 for the first time in its six-decade history as record-busting snowfall paralyzed roads. It would take another massive snowfall to close the bureau again, McCann said. If roads are passable, the bureau will remain open even during frigid cold.
But safety measures will be in place.
Fairgrounds crews are on alert during the 10 days the bureau is open to keep parking areas and sidewalks clear of snow and ice.
“My guys know if we get snow that morning to come in early,” fairgrounds facilities manager Craig Crocker said.
Volunteers will walk the long lines outside the Ag Building, looking for children at risk of exposure, to hustle them and their parents to a warm space. There’s an 80-foot stretch of covering to protect at least part of the crowd from rain or snow.
In an emergency – if the air turns frigid – organizers will steer the line into a neighboring building and turn on the heat.
And if the bureau must close, coordinators will alert the media. In 2008, they distributed gifts through other agencies. But that’s an option of last resort, said Ann Marie Byrd, Catholic Charities’ development director, because no matter the distribution point, recipients have to get there somehow.
The Christmas Bureau distributes toys, books and grocery vouchers to families in need. The Christmas Fund, through which The Spokesman-Review seeks donations from readers, pays the bills for the event, a collaborative effort by the newspaper, Catholic Charities and the Volunteers of America.
The Christmas Fund today stands at $41,414.62 thanks to $5,533.70 in new donations from community members.
Liberty Lake’s Ronald and Shirley Schoenberger, who first donated 24 years ago, gave $1,030. “Our original contribution was small, but something we were comfortable with,” they wrote. “When we made our first contribution we agreed to, if possible, increase our yearly contribution by 10 percent each succeeding year.”
The Country Jammers Band, of Newman Lake – W.R. “Bill” and Marge Fautch, Paul and Charlotte McLucas, Jay and Judy Nuxoll, Linda Stitt, Gene and Judy Lewis, Taylor McLucas, Lucille Mott and Dolores Lashbrook – donated $1,000 and challenged other musical groups also to donate.
John and Janet Peterson, of Spokane, donated $600. “Due to greater need in our community, we are increasing our gift to help a bit more,” they wrote.
Erin and Rand Young, of Spokane, gave $500, as did an anonymous donor from Spokane.
Judith Hudson, of Spokane, donated $350 in memory of her husband, Mac Hudson. “The Christmas Bureau is what Christmas is really about,” she wrote. “Sharing, helping others, is the real meaning of Christmas.”
Orval and Anita Janssen, of Spokane, donated $200, as did Karen Woodworth, of Spokane.
Bill Molsberry gave $193.90 via PayPal.
Jerry Dormaier Farms Inc., of Hartline, Wash., donated $100.
The following Spokane residents gave $100: Kelly Vance; J. Paul and Sharma Shields; and Margie Byers, who donated “in memory of my dad, John L. Cooney.” Lane Klees, of Spokane, sent $100 “in honor of our area’s service people and their families.”
Bertha Booth, of Spokane Valley, also gave $100. She wrote: “To all you good people who do such a beautiful job of helping the ones who need it the most. Thanks. No child should have to miss getting something for Christmas.”
Theresa Helmbrecht gave $96.80 via PayPal.
Eunice Johnson donated $53.
Mark Johnson, of Nine Mile Falls, donated $50, as did an anonymous donor from Deer Park and Thomas Pope, of Spokane.
Shirley Schoenleber, of Spokane Valley, donated $35.
An anonymous couple from Spokane gave $25.