When the Christmas Bureau’s myriad moving parts begin to fall into place each year – the toys find their places on shelves, the coffee’s brewing – people like to say it runs itself.
“Well, that’s true,” bureau coordinator Judy Lee said last week, “once we get there.”
In the meantime, toy companies must be paid. Carts must be borrowed to load the toys on after they arrive in big trucks, whose arrivals must be scheduled. Volunteers must be called to pick up the carts. Speaking of volunteers, 70 pounds of donated coffee await pickup to rouse their ranks and warm the recipients. Someone has to fetch the coffee cups. And so on.
That’s where Lee comes in. Less than three months into her job as Catholic Charities’ events coordinator, she’s in charge of those moving parts. When the bureau opens Thursday and she sees them moving in concert – the bureau running itself, as they like to say – it’ll be her first time.
The bureau distributes toys, books and grocery vouchers to thousands of residents. It’s funded by donations from newspaper readers.
The bureau coordinator serves as the “hub of the wheel,” said Christy Folkins, the bureau’s co-chairwoman. “They make all the rest of the pieces flow smoothly.”
Theresa Dryden had the job for three years before taking a data-analyst job with Spokane Public Schools. To serve as bureau coordinator, Dryden said, you have to be organized, and you have to be calm – someone who can keep a level head to deal with problems as they arise.
Folkins said she’s observed those qualities in Lee, 54. “There’s nothing that overwhelms her,” she said.
Good thing. Besides the inevitable trouble spots – the computer network built of donated equipment needs a few more parts – this year’s bureau faces a particular challenge: Establishing alternative forms of acceptable ID for kids. The Department of Social and Health Services stopped issuing the medical coupons that parents formerly used to show children’s names, addresses and birth dates. It’s information the bureau needs to prevent repeat visitors and ensure it can help more people.
Lee said she’s grateful for help from colleagues at Catholic Charities and from volunteers, some of whom have been on the job for years and have trained their own battalions of helpers.
“I still probably think this is the hardest I’ve ever worked at a job,” she said.
Lee feels the responsibility acutely, she said. Catholic Charities and its Christmas Bureau co-collaborators, the Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review, are depending on her. “The recipients don’t know it, but they’re depending on me.”
But, she said, when she goes home at night, after she’s eaten the dinner her husband, Bob Lee, has waiting, she begins to look forward to returning to work in the morning, to check a few more things off that to-do list and get that much closer to helping families. She’s stressed, but that’s OK.
“When you’re doing something for a good cause, it’s a good stress,” she said.
Every day, the calls to toy companies and coffee roasters are interspersed with calls from potential recipients. Some tell Lee the stories behind their situations, describing their job loss or divorce, the reasons they need help at Christmas.
“You can hear in their voice that they are sincerely struggling,” Lee said, “and you can hear in their voice that this is really going to be a blessing for their family.”
With $11,100 in new donations, the Christmas Fund now stands at $64,994.62.
SCAFCO, a Spokane company, donated $10,000.
“SCAFCO Corporation and its employees are pleased to share with others in the community during this holiday season,” wrote Bruce Katahira, assistant to the president.
Donald and Eleanor Limmer, of Liberty Lake, donated $150.
The following Spokane residents gave $100: Wendy and Michael Brady; Mabel Morrison; Linda Williamson; Harold Wilson; and Jackie and Roy Howerton, who wrote: “Here is our share of the money for the Christmas Fund. God bless everyone.”
An anonymous donor from Spokane gave $100 in memory of June.
Lawrence Boisen, of Hauser, Idaho, donated $100.
Michael and Christine Carbery, of Spokane, gave $70.
Dick and Ann Collins, of Spokane, gave $50. Joyce Callaway, of Medical Lake, also donated $50. She wrote: “May this small donation help those without.”
Cyrus McLean, of Spokane, donated $40.
Victoria Lawrence, of Spokane, gave $30.
An anonymous donor gave $10.