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Christmas Bureau prepares for Thursday opening

The first of five trucks stuffed with toys backed into a cavernous building just after 9 Tuesday morning, its trailer striped with green and red. Coincidence?

Well, yes. That’s the Consolidated Freightways logo. Still, the color scheme was appropriate for this 18-wheel sleigh, stacked with boxes of toys to be distributed starting Thursday at the Christmas Bureau.

The toys’ arrival marked the start of a 48-hour transformation of empty space at the Spokane County fairgrounds into a world of its own, including an intake area, a child care area, a book room and the toy room. Volunteers swarmed the first truck and those that followed, unwrapping pallets, pushing carts and delivering boxes according to instructions from supervisors, who assigned toys to storage “aisles” extending from a back wall.

The toys – and the children’s books and grocery vouchers also distributed during the bureau’s 10-day run – are paid for with donations from newspaper readers. The charity event is put on by the Volunteers of America, Catholic Charities Spokane and The Spokesman-Review. Last year it served nearly 36,000 people.

The toys would eventually be placed in the bureau’s toy room and nearby staging area, where volunteers will grab toys to replenish supplies as parents select gifts for their kids.

“You have mountains of toys,” said volunteer Bekah Manikowski, 16, a Gonzaga Prep junior, as she helped stack boxes. “Unboxed, you’d think it would look like Harrods,” the five-acre department store in London.

Among the offerings for parents with patience: seven cases of light-up marching drums and 13 cases of toy trumpets.

One pallet held a diversity: Disney Princess Musical Snow Whites & Friends, My First Computers and Musical Letter Twists.

In the games section, 17 cases of Apples to Apples stood between Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader games, UNO Tippo and the “NCIS” game (players visit the crime scene, get statements from suspects and check in with headquarters).

“We have one more stack of Gloworms here,” Mary Duncan told fellow volunteer Pam Brown as they admired the almost-filled half of their aisle. “We were lucky this year to get some of the first trucks.”

In the meantime, the Spokane women jumped in to help unload a truck of playthings for the child care area and more-mundane supplies, such as tissue and hand sanitizer.

Amid the growing aisles, Rick Haynes, who lives in the Nine Mile area, compared an order list to the growing stacks to ensure the bureau was receiving what it paid for. The numbers will be tracked throughout the bureau’s 10 days, he said. If a toy goes fast, buyers will know it’s a hit and consider ordering more next year. If few go out the door, that’s good to know, too.

In his third year as a volunteer, Haynes said those who show up to help – about 75 Tuesday morning – know their jobs well to put the bureau together: “It’s organized chaos.”

With only the occasional slip. A tower built of Candylands and Battleships swayed and toppled in the unloading zone. “Stay back, stay back!” volunteer Judy Thies urged as others stepped forward to prevent more games from falling.

Within 60 seconds, an ad-hoc crew had the games restacked and on their way to their assigned places, that much closer to Christmas.