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Bureau provides toys, vouchers for 5,000-plus on opening day

In a line two and four people wide and extending from the Christmas Bureau into the fairgrounds parking lot, April Couturier stood near the end Thursday morning.

That was after the drive with her husband from Pullman, a trip made to get a grocery voucher and a book and a toy each for their three children while the kids were in school. Both parents are unemployed.

Couturier was looking at a long wait in a slow line. The effort was worth it, she said. “Without this, we would have nothing.”

Counting adults and children, 5,413 people got something for Christmas during the bureau’s opening day, despite cold morning drizzle and uncertainty over whether recipients would meet new ID requirements for children. That’s about 500 fewer than were served on last year’s record-breaking opening day.

Thursday’s total included 2,978 children.

“I am tired, but I’m thrilled with how things have gone,” bureau coordinator Judy Lee said as helpers served the last people in the building after closing the doors. “The volunteer team here is just amazing.”

Most recipients carried the ID and documentation required to secure food vouchers and gifts, she said. For some who came unprepared, volunteers could consult past bureau records or, for children of Department of Social and Health Service clients, get help from an on-site mobile DSHS office.

The Christmas Bureau, paid for with donations from newspaper readers, is a group effort by The Spokesman-Review, Catholic Charities Spokane and Volunteers of America to help families in need. It continues six days a week – closed Sundays – through Dec. 20.

Jessica Stout, 21, said she was grateful for the help. As a waitress, she said, she feels the ups and downs of the economy. At the moment, she’s feeling the down – which could have meant a sparse Christmas for sons Rashjel, 3, and Jae-Jae, 2.

“My tips pretty much pay the bills,” Stout said. “My bills don’t stop even though Christmas is here.”

Volunteer Mary Duncan, of Spokane, helped staff the toy room, lined with tables stacked neatly with playthings for newborns to 17-year-olds. Parents often have a hard time choosing, Duncan said.

“The first lady who came through the door probably left 20th,” she said. “It’s lovely to have so many choices, though.”

Jason Brown, 27, and Shondell Brown, 23, were weighing the options.

For their son Gabriel, 6, perhaps something musical – or anything not involving wheels. “We’re trying to get him out of the car stage,” Shondell Brown said.

They’d pretty much settled on a desk and easel for Nathaniel, 3, who likes to work with pens and pencils. “We kind of would like something where he’s not writing on the walls,” she said.

Waiting in line inside the building, Stephanie Pimenthal, 34, said it was her fourth time visiting the bureau. She said she appreciates the respect and friendliness shown by volunteers to those seeking help.

“It makes it easy for us, makes it comfortable,” she said. “Some people have a hard time doing this. … But we’re all here for a reason.”

New donations

Donations totaling $10,535 raised the Christmas Fund total to $150,569.76.

Colvico Inc., of Spokane, donated $2,000.

Melanie Johnson, of Spokane, donated $1,500.

The Assistants, a Spokane organization that helps “in the development and progress of education, art, literature, music and the general welfare of the community of Spokane,” gave $1,000. Also giving $1,000: Bill and Sharon Bronson, of Spokane Valley; and Wagstaff Inc., of Spokane Valley.

Spokane residents who gave $500: Roger and Kathleen Chase; and Lynn Novotney.

An anonymous donor from Spokane gave $300.

Joan Peden, of Spokane, sent $250, as did an anonymous donor from Spokane.

Giving $200: John and Janet Gray, of Spokane Valley; Norman and Brenda Jangaard, of Spokane; and Michael Howson, of Spokane.

Spokane residents who gave $100: an anonymous donor; Mel Griffith; Verna Winton, “in memory of my husband, Marvin Winton”; and Helen Bell, who wrote: “I hope the generosity continues into the rest of the year.”

Spokane Valley residents who gave $100: an anonymous donor; H.O. Wilson; Mr. and Mrs. Don Lippman; and Lee and Kathryn Irving.

Gary and Judy Spangelo, of Cheney, also gave $100, as did Karen Trejbal, of Rockford, and Les Hunt.

Werner and Marlene Westhoff, of Spokane, gave $75. “Thank you for your help to make others have a brighter Christmas,” they wrote. George and Barbara Stevens, of Spokane, also gave $75.

Giving $50, all of Spokane: John and Sharon Hopper and Luella Palmer; and the Northwest Treasure Hunters Club. Also giving $50: Jerry and Jean Martin, of Liberty Lake, in memory of their son Scott, “who loved giving to others”; and an anonymous donor from Spokane Valley.

An anonymous couple from Spokane gave $45.

Gary Fiscus, of Liberty Lake, gave $30. Richard and Guyla Wigen, of Ritzville, also gave $30.

Shirley Byrnes, of Medical Lake, gave $20.

Alan and Carolyn Fisher, of Cheney, gave $10.

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